Sunday, March 25, 2012

More Terrain, Emergency Rooms, and AWESOME "Monumental" Sneak Previews

So, regrettably, I wound up not participating in our 2nd March terrain build yesterday; a serious deep throat viral infection nearly shut my airways, and sent me to the ER by halfway through the afternoon. I gotta say, nearly minute-long episode of not being able to breathe in the middle of the ER waiting room = both a great way for docs to rapidly pay attention, and a terrifying experience to have to go through.

And all I have to show for it is a stupid bracelet

BUT, while tha twas going on, some seriously awesome terrain was yet again being put together into its nascent stages ... so without further adieu, a few more shots of what the crew threw together at one of our bi-monthly terrain builds for NOVA 2012.

And of course, you always need some Ork terrain ...

All of the above bears more insight on the value of precision hot wire foam cutters + pink foam, as well as the value to "sprucing" up pink foam and foam board terrain by stretching the resources gained by plastic kits and commercially available molds.

Finally, as some of you have paid attention for, our Narrative evening event this year will feature recreations of famous DC monuments, that in the end will even be fully lit with LED's.

See if you can figure out what these two awesome W.I.P.'s are going to be ...

Monday, March 19, 2012

Doing Radical Stuff With Pink Foam + Tips on Supplies and Process for Doing It Yourself

Any large-scale tournament organizer or hardcore hobbyist eventually builds something of a love affair with Pink Insulation Foam.

Results TBD in about 20 years whether this also means they build something of a love affair with exotic cancers ... but more on that later :)

The sweet terrain crew we have for the NOVA began building tournament terrain with pink foam with our hills last year, the design of which was tackled by Tim Williamson of the Tau of War.

They started as misshappen lumps of pink foam, and turned into some pretty solid looking and functional LOS blocking tournament terrain.


We also commissioned tons of cool figure-8 "footprinted" hills from a local terrain builder, although some were perhaps a bit too large for the centers of tables ...

But these suckers are all built from Pink Foam. That said, our production of foam-based material was largely limited to hills last year ... and this year we had yet another ambitious terrain production project ahead of us, in order to become fully self-sufficient in the terrain department.

One of our big requirements was the production of more partially-los blocking corner pieces, and also some really fancy pants LOS blocking centerpieces of a more "perfect" size and dimension than the Figure 8's we had to ad-hoc into the center of many tables. While my focus on this particular entry is what you can do with Pink Foam, we also have been exploiting the value of foamboard for creating the "base" structure of partial los blocking corner buildings ... and I'll highlight some of that as well in the following set of "in-progress" and "finished example"


Foamboard is available quite affordably from Michael's, and a few creative templates + proper foamboard cutters. Finishing is really where the details are at, and you can help avoid some of the inherent "warp-ability" over time of foamboard by applying proper coatings and finishings, and by building it in a way that doesn't expose it to too much damage.

Onto the pink.

Here are many of the pieces we built at the last terrain day (obviously not painted/textured/etc. yet, but you can see where they are going) ... PS you end up putting on silly faces for photographs like this staffer did, if you inhale too much pink foam smoke.

FYI we base our foam with thin MDF from Home Depot, which we cut/sand to shapes ... the flat edges you see around the foamboard and pink foam pieces' baseplates are power sanded down so that models don't encounter wobbly model syndrome when placed along the edges.

Tools. The most valuable tools for doing intricate things with pink foam are pretty straight forward. I know some folks build their own in this regard, but there are some serious advantages to a proper tool/set of tools.

While you can use a handheld hot wire cutter, it cannot/will not give you precision edges. This is in large part due to the imprecise nature of the tool, and the very thick wire. As a result, the notion of building believable walls and other things with it is a little bit on the difficult side. It's equally difficult to imagine repeating the same shapes reliably with it, so any type of build that would require replication for believability becomes more difficult.

Handheld wire cutters can be GREAT for hills and similar features, b/c the ripply effect they create along the edge of what they cut has a great appearance for "natural" and irregular features.

You can hand cut pink foam to a degree with sharp edges (and it tends to break along score-marks like plasticard), but that can also be time consuming, and can be harder to properly do with thicker pieces ... still problems!

So, after a little trial and error, we wound up with a supply of these suckers:

The Proxxon is WAY cheaper than the Mighty Might, though it has some user friendliness inhibitions that aren't quite there with the Mighty. The Mighty is the best we've used, if you don't mind the $219 up-front cost.

You could also go with this guy:

While nice for things like hills, the wire gauge is much thicker, which causes more roughage along the foam when you cut it. This slows down the cut and generates more smoke, but can be very effective for certain effects and results; it can also be quite a bit more durable over time. This last one is the best price, and certainly way better than a hand cutter; it may not be your FAVORITE for precision edges. We've used it as well and have a couple on hand for project days.

As a general rule, the thinner the wire, the straighter the edge potential and the less smoke generated in the process (aka less cancer in your future).

Aside from that, all you really need is Pink Insulation Foam (available in 8' x 2' sections from the Home Depot, in the $8-15/board range for thicknesses of 3/4" to 2") ... manufacturer is Owens Corning.

What we started to learn over time (and many of us knew it already, so once they came on board, instant knowledge!) is how much you could do with the simple addition of common tools. Knives and butane lighters/torches were the two most intriguing when we started to use them.


Also of huge merit in the production process was when one of our guys (pictured looking way too high on pink foam smoke in the above photos) grabbed a butane lighter and started firing at the pink foam with it.

This particular piece uses cutting / puncturing / gluing things to it, precision creation of repeated shapes/bricks, and burning giant meltabomb holes in walls.

Some other examples of recent productions abound below ...

Suddenly, you start to figure this stuff out. Pink foam is waterproof, takes spray paint better than rumored (unless you spray point blank), takes texture well, and has strong resilience against "bangs" and compression. It's simultaneously super easy to cut, damage, melt, warp, burn, and glue things to or stick things into.

More importantly, it's affordable as a product to start working with, and if you put in the up-front costs for the right tools ... and take some time to practice and get creative, you can really create some interesting material with it that makes awesome and unique terrain for your home table, club tables, or gaming groups.

Those veteran hobbyists out there probably know a million and more ways to do this stuff, and even do it better ... and we're open to those inputs as well :) ... but hopefully this is a little bit of a helper for those who are just getting into the hobby side of things, and who want to give a try to a couple of cool processes we've learned over the 1,000 pieces of terrain we've built for the NOVA.

Colonial GT Incoming - Warmachine/Hordes Slots Still Available

Chris Nanry, who runs the Colonial GT event and goes by the username "mastermoulder" around the forums, is one of the first organizers I frequently spoke with when starting up the NOVA, sharing tickets/badges back and forth, and the like.

The event is coming up in a couple of weeks, and a lot of the players who attend for Fantasy and 40k (both sold out) come to the NOVA Open, and many other events around the New England / Mid Atlantic region.

Warmachine Slots are apparently still available for this well-run and vintage event, and I suggest checking out their website, and their forum post on Dakka for detailed information on prices, events, prizes, and the like.

Prizes seem especially cool, including high quality fully painted warjacks, tons of N.I.B. prizes and cool custom trophies.

Tickets are available for single days, or the whole weekend, so you can attend based upon availability.

I always hear good things about the Colonial, and it's another of the many events within easy drive of me (including SVDM, Mechanicon, DaBoyz, BFS, Conflict, etc.) that I always wish my schedule would let me attend when they happen ... one of these years!

The website can be found here:
The Dakka thread is here:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

4+ Cover vs. 5+ Cover; TLOS vs 4th Edition Style LOS Rules; Actual Impacts


I was chatting with a buddy, and it made me want to blog about the impact of terrain rules in 40k on game balance and list design, as well as on the tournament scene.

Line of Sight blockage of a substantial degree has been a meaningful component of 40k for decades. Focusing just on the more recently memorable 4th Edition, however, you see a situation where MOST terrain and vehicles provided significant LOS blockage.

Coupled with the ability to consolidate into new combats, 4th edition was much stronger for assault armies than 5th on a baseline level. Removing the ability to consolidate into new combats shifted this back the other way, but the change to line of sight rules in conjunction shifted it too far.

The key here is most terrain was ridden with windows and line of sight gaps prior to 5th edition. Heck, plenty of players in their homes simply used felt circles and such to represent stands of trees and other things that effectively were line of sight blocking regardless of height or tree density.  With the release of 5th edition, thousands of players worldwide suddenly had a dramatically different effect from trees, buildings, and anything else that wasn't a solid block of material.

When you think about the balance of combat and shooting, a significant component of it is the simple fact that in a line of sight rich environment, shooting units are active EVERY turn, whereas assault units need to often times cross considerable distances to start using their offensive capability. This is a large reason why assault units that are cheaper, and/or faster, and/or fearless, and/or more durable are a better investment, and a requirement ... if you can't get the unit there AND still do damage, you're never going to compensate. Line of sight blockage corrects this to a degree, as does/did the improvement of the "average" cover save to a 4+.

One of my biggest concerns for 6th edition is reducing the "base" cover save back to a 5+. Doing so would directly benefit further MSU armies and "bullet spam," because torrenting non-marines out of cover becomes that much easier to do.

Fortunately, as 5th Edition matured and newer tournament styles and approaches came out, line of sight blockage has improved steadily in terms of what you'll encounter when you travel to a competition. This, plus very especially the nightfighting and movement control instilled by Necron are causing a "break-up" of the old "shoot them until they die and don't take deathstars / other units they can just draw a bead on and torrent over and over" mentality. If boards have significant LOS blockage and you are using a pure MSU army with tons of rhino or chimera hulls, you have a harder and harder time moving all of your vehicles a few inches here and there into position to draw shots on KEY units (i.e. draigo deathstars, straken type aura generators, etc.). Additionally, NON marine armies are able to use a 4+ cover save to make up some of the gap in power level that is semi-inherent to the nature of half the armies in the game being some kind of marine/3+ variant (CSM, SM, DA, BT, SW, GK, BA, SOB, kinda-Necron).

I'm rambling a bit as standard, but - the long and short is this:

There's a fine balance to be had in keeping a game from becoming stale, where "normalized" builds are the only ones that work. As 5th edition matures, line of sight blocking becomes more common in a tournament setting, and new codices like Necrons break up the notion of what really makes a "best" build (i.e. razorwolves / vet+hydra spam doesn't work well if there's line of sight blockage at all in an environment that includes tremorcrons and scarabfarms) ... the result is a game that becomes increasingly interesting, and far less predictable at the tournament level. I think most people will more and more come to like this.

If you ARE a fan of this, you want to hope things like the rumored 5+ cover save reduction in 6th edition do not come to pass ... anything that further decreases the ability to protect key units or keep more fragile units covered en route to where you want to go on the board will de facto INCREASE the common nature of MSU spam shooty armies. While these for a time (and now fading some) were the "best" statistically on a non-LOS blocked game board of 5th edition 40k, I think most people who become more and more veteran with the game can agree that they don't necessarily have a positive impact on variability and fun. This isn't chess, after all, and the more a game can mature and settle into a situation of high variability, the more interesting and unexpected the tournament scene becomes. This further creates a situation where unique and balanced armies are ALWAYS better to take and prepare with than copycatting an internet list, rolling lots of plasmaback and missile shots, and blaming losses on your bad rolls.

Ramble a bit, but hopefully some interesting subject matter.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Awesome Volunteers, March Newsletter and Limited Edition Scenic Bases, SVDM

Just a quick hitter here -

Our March Newsletter released earlier; e-mail if you want to be added to the newsletter ...

March Newsletter

So, in addition to helping us prepare 240 sideboards, over 100 6x4 and 4x4 tables, hundreds of pieces of terrain, and more, our Volunteer staff has also been putting in extra time doing some pretty amazing side things and key things that inherently go under the radar.

The NOVA is run behind the scenes by an executive committee comprised of three incredibly impressive gals - Laurie, Sam, and Sue. Between them they handle almost every critical organizational task of the NOVA, from making sure our terrain builds happen to producing awesome newsletters, to heading up some of our terrain build projects like the DC Monument project for the Narrative (LED-lit recreations of iconic DC monuments).  Marketing, leadership, organizing, structuring, discussing, formulating, budgeting, acquiring, ordering ... everything. They do it, they make it happen, and we wouldn't succeed without 'em.

Our website is kept going and up to speed, and constantly improved by the hard work of Kevin K. It's come leaps and bounds since its initial presentation.

We also have people like Bob Likins working to create awesome things like our limited edition scenic bases, or Jon Pryts spearheading an actual ... well, that's a secret for another week or so, but it'll have you rolling on the floor laughing.

None of our volunteers are thanked enough, or thanked publicly enough. It's one of many things I as an overall exec for the NOVA need to consistently do a better job of acknowledging, and consider this my paltry public first start.

These bases tie into the DC narrative event, and a lot more will be coming out about that.

Make sure you reserve your hotel rooms and your GT tickets ASAP - they are selling at an ever increasing rate, and are both likely to run out before everyone who wants to attend gets on ticket purchasing. If you're not sure about tickets yet, but are fairly certain you want to attend, make sure you reserve your hotel rooms NOW - you'll earn more raffle tickets toward $1,000 cash if you DO stay, and you can cancel your reservations if you wind up not staying.

Remember - over 40% of registrations so far are NEW to the NOVA Open; these people are inherently taking the spots of GT attendees who are slacking on picking up tickets but still plan to ... don't miss out!

The SVDM is a long-running Pennsylvania GT run by Mike Clark of Showcase Comics. As mentioned last year in January, Mike is one of those long-standing outstanding guys in the hobby, always running excellent events and always improving his offering.

Several of the NOVA volunteers / crew attended the event, and I was proud of Eric for taking 1st Overall with his Necrons (and scoring a perfect 100/100 battle points), and Andrew taking 2nd Overall (thanks both to his excellent gaming skills ... a multi-GT winner ... and his awesome hobby skills). I take a small bit of pride in the fact that our local crew now has 4 distinct GT winners in Andrew, Eric, Tony and myself. Everyone keeps getting better all the time, while also scoring excellent in sportsmanship and constantly improving in appearance scores.

Sometimes it is lost in translation how much I appreciate (at least personally) the wide variety of excellent events that are out there in our hobby. Running a tournament or convention is largely fueled by the passion of the organizers and volunteers, and a lot of that passion derives from the freedom to do things the way you think is best to do them. This is why the NOVA runs the way it does, why the SVDM does, why WargamesCon and AdeptiCon do, or the Bay Area, or DaBoyz. All of them are top notch events run by top notch people, and this is in large part due to the independence of them, and the unique nature of each event's formats, styles, and personalities.

I just wanted to add this little for the record that while I talk about NOVA all the time, it's really that ... passion for your event that truly makes it great ... far more than format, metrics, or fancy big name attendees. Make sure when the SVDM comes around next year, you all head on up (or down, or over, or whatever), and give it a shot - Mike himself makes a pretty mean offering of home-brew food to go along with it I hear ... just one more unique flavor to another great event in our country.