Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Review - CEGA

Last week I had a look at the first wave of fleet scale JAF releases for Jovian Chronicles and Lightning Strike and this week I'm reviewing the CEGA releases! We have the old school Wraith fighters, the stopgap Syreen exo armor and the new mass produced Wyvern exo armor. I put some more background info in this review, as the game is still an unknown for many readers. I'll be going back and updating the first review as well.

CEGA, short for Central Earth Government and Administration, is the second superpower in the Solar system, balancing the Jovian Confederation, and is desperately struggling to catch up with the technological leaps that happened after The Fall, where Earth descended into war and was cut off from the rest of the Solar nations. While CEGA doesn't represent all the nations on Earth it does wield substantial power and has resources to throw at aggressive R&D to fuel their plan of re-taking their lost colonies. This has not only made the rest of the Solar system really nervous but has garnered critique from CEGA's own citizens as resources are put into the navy rather than trying to rebuild the smashed ecosystem of Earth.

Now let's take a look at the models! Full disclosure, these models were provided to me by Dream Pod 9. Like last time let's start with the fighters!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Yes, fighters are still around as they can fulfill some roles exos are not suited for, at a fraction of the cost! The Wraith is an old design, dating back to the late twenty-first century. However, fighter designs don't change as quickly as exo designs and CEGA certainly couldn't afford to be choosy when emerging from The Fall to retake the solar system. Here are the models straight out of the pack. As you can see there's almost no mould lines and just a couple of pieces of flash to clean. Nice and quick! For some reason they look a little different from how I've imagined the Wraith. I wasn't all that fond of the original 1/500 scale sculpt as it looked a little too flat and "boring". It's a tricky design though, as it looks great as Ghislain's art but becomes a bit too boxy as a model. Still, let's have a better look at these fighters mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wraith Fighters

Either the pictures didn't do the old sculpt justice or these fleet scale fighters have been ever so slightly tweaked to make the wings a little larger and with more of a downward slant. This certainly kicks them up a couple of notches in my view as I like the look of them better now. They look a little larger than the Lancers squadron but that's only because they're flatter and I guess their about the same mass. Just like with the fleet scale Lancer there are a number of small thrust vectoring plates that have turned into those small nubs at the end, but this, of course, can't be helped considering the scale. Overall I'm very happy with the Wraiths and I actually think they're a step up from the older, larger, models!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

Next up we have our first CEGA exo armor! Well... it's barely a proper exo armor, is it? A hastily converted orbital transfer vehicle, meant to be used as a stopgap, that turned out to be surprisingly effective. Still, even after a refit the 30 year old machine is showing its age and has a hard time competing with the latest JAF has to offer. Of the models in this first wave the Syreen required the most amount of clean up. The flash attached to the engine bell and propellant tanks are quick to take care of but there were relatively visible mould lines along the side of the main hull, the tanks and on top of the "wings". Not excessive by any means, but enough for me to want to take out the file and get rid of them. Most likely this is because of the rounded shapes of the Syreen compared to the other more angular exos. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Syreen Exo Armor

If you're wondering about the leader, it's the one in the middle. Syreens don't carry flashy close combat weapons like the plasma lance, so it's harder to make the leader stand out. What DP9 sculptor Tony Baltera has done instead is sweep the wings/arms back to give it more of a dynamic look. An alternative would have been to model the ECM pod that is only present on the command model. However the problem with that is that is has never been depicted what it looks like in the art (as far as I know). If I would convert it myself I'd probably put a comms dish vertically on its back. Anyway, when I first saw the renders for the Syreen I was a little worried that it looked too rounded and bulbous, but looking at the finished model in my hand now I can say that it's an almost perfect representation of the Syreen! People might wonder why, when there are such cool exos as the Pathfinder and Cerberus around, but the Syreen is actually my favourite exo design so I'm very happy to see it made the transition to fleet scale so well!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Ok, so even if my personal favourite is the Syreen most readers will likely be more excited to read about the Wyvern exo armor! Right about when JAF introduced the heavier Retaliator exo armor (which is being prepped for casting as I type this!) CEGA officials realized they needed to up their game and replace the Syreen with something sturdier. Not being able to match the speed of JAF exos they focused on armour and firepower! These guys required only a little bit of clean up, mostly just taking care of fhe pieces of flash underneath the feet and filing one or two areas where you could see some vague mould lines. Overall, great casts. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Wyvern Exo Armor

Another example of Tony doing a great job of catching all the important bits and the essence of what makes a Wyvern a Wyvern. The ins and outs of the armour, the thigh flaps and the thin, monitor-like head (less vision, but more firepower!). The hypergolic bazooka is pretty much just a tube, but that is how it should be. My favourite bit in this pack is the leader though! He of course comes with the comms upgrade visible on the right shoulder and has his bazooka replaced by a massdriver rifle, but the coolest bit is the hummer axe! If you've seen pretty much any Gundam series you know that the iconic Zeon front line Zaku suit, that was the inspiration for the Wyvern, often carry an axe shaped close combat weapon. It just fits so well and was not present in either the old model nor the actual rpg background. Wyverns carry hummer knives, but not axes - however I think this is much cooler from a visual perspective. Lovely models and I think they just nudge themselves past the Pathfinder as my second favourite fleet scale exos, thanks to the axe!

While I really like the JAF releases I think the CEGA models actually win this round. The Syreen and Wyvern are just so well translated into this smaller scale! Again, can't wait to get some paint on these models as I want to see them in their full glory on my space mat. I was out of onigiris so here they are grouped with a reference bottle of Ripobitan D!

Next up is Wave 2 which consists of the Retaliator and Vindicator for JAF and the Cerberus and Fury for CEGA and should be ready for sale in a week or two. DP9 also just revealed Wave 3 which will consiste of Venus units; the Brunhilde fighter, the Ryu exo armor and (sculpted for the first time ever!) the Bonebreaker exo armor! Lots of cool stuff in other words. Hopefully I'll be able to review these as well in during the coming months. I'll round off this review with the preview renders of the next two waves:

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Monday, 28 March 2016

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Review - Jovians

Today I bring you a review of the first wave of the new Jovian models for the fleet scale version of Jovian Chronicles and/or Lightning Strike! I have the first wave of CEGA models as well, just waiting to be assembled, but I thought it would be better to split the review into two parts.

These models have been long in the making, with a teaser picture of the fleet scale fighters appearing ten years ago! Just check out this picture from Starship Combat News. I suppose someone should update that page now that we have new stuff! Also, why is the Uller missile cruiser on the Jovian side in this picture?! 

As Robert Dubois mentioned, in the interview I conducted with him last month, the fleet scale fighters were lost and not rediscovered until last year when DP9 decided to do a production run to gauge interest in future fleet scale models for Jovian Chronicles. Luckily for us mecha enthusiasts the response was a good one and now we have four sets of exo armors on sale already and four more on pre-order ready for release in April. Good times! 

Now let's take a look at the actual models shall we? We've seen the renders and although they looked good a render is not a model. Full disclosure: Dream Pod 9 provided me with the fighters and exo armors for review with my purchase of the missing ships for my JAF fleet (well, I'm still missing the Godsfire!). Please excuse the slightly wonky and badly lit pictures - I'm working with what I've got here... :)

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Lancers

Age before beauty, or something -first out let's take a look at the Lancer squadron. Above you can see what the pieces looked like right out of the pack, with no cleaning or anything. Minimal mould lines quickly taken care of with a file and some small pieces of flash at the front, but that was it. Very easy to clean! Mounted they look like this:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Lancer and Thunderbolt

They're quite dainty, about as long as one of the exo armors is tall but much smaller. The entire fuel tank is about he size of one of the thrusters on the Hector. Which is as it should be of course! While the new models are all designed digitally these, and the Wraiths, were hand sculpted which you might be able to tell if you stare at them long enough. Doesn't really matter in the end though as they look very close to the original drawings by Ghislain Barbe. The two side fins are missing, but that is understandable considering how small they'd be.

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Hectors

Next up we have the Hector exo armor which is a slight improvement to the Pathfinder with the legs replaced by a thruster assembly. It's zippier, has slighly better armour and is equipped with a missile defense system. As you can see there's barely any flash on these guys - just a little at the end of the thrusters. The only mould lines I could find where at the side of the thrusters so, again, very quick to clean! There's the leader with the plasma lance and two regular Hectors. Unfortunately the rear thruster had to be removed, as otherwise it would be impossible to cast it in one piece, but when properly mounted it's not really noticeable. If you really wanted to you could probably put something together as a replacement though. Here they are mounted:

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Hector and Thunderbolt

I really like the extra detail on the shield as the Spartan looking helmet made it through casting just fine. My only nitpick is the lack of detail on the thrusters. At this scale options are of course limited, but some simple lines mimicking what can be seen in the artwork would have been nice. Also the smaller thrusters on the back are filled in to facilitate proper casting, but I'll probably drill them out for extra effect. I really like space based mechas like this! While the Syreen is probably my favourite the Hector is pretty cool to. Hehe!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Pathfinders

Finally, the pièce de résistance and the cover model of Jovian Chronicles - the Pathfinder! Again, barely and mould lines or flash. Just a little bit underneath the feet and the string going from the sword hand to the thigh. At some places you can see very slight print lines from the original rapid prototyping process, but they won't be visible after getting some paint on the model so no point in loosing sleep over. Here they are mounted:

The Javelins and the Hectors look good, but of these three releases the Pathfinder takes the price for best looking model! The characteristic shape of the torso and legs are there, the head unit with the visor, the comm dish, the 792A Particle Cannon carried by the leader... it's all there. I want to paint these guys so bad but it'll have to wait until I'm back home in May. I think they'd take to quick and easy techniques exceedingly well and look really nice on the tabletop! Compared to the Thunderbolt cruiser they are of course still out of scale, but the gap has shrunk quite a bit and it's now at the level where it's very easy for your brain to just fudge it for you. Yes, the exos and fighters are a bit too large, but it still looks perfectly fine on the table - in fact I think having smaller models would make it look worse as all the detail would be lost and it would simply become different coloured humanoid shapes.

I'm very happy with these Jovian releases! And as it turns out the Thunderbolt also look a lot better once you have it in hand than on pictures I have seen. Bonus! 

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Flight Stand

Finally I would like to talk a little bit about the new flight stand DP9 has designed. It's basically three bendable wires with a ball on top that you can glue to the ball joint on the model. This works very well and allows you to position your squads in different dynamic positions. How to mount fighters in space games have been something of a pet peeve of mine way back since I first played Battlefleet Gothic. 

I have seen many different solutions but the results have almost always been quite static looking. In the end I had decided that the best would be to construct something just like this, using wire and a lump of modelling putty. Except, now DP9 has done it for me! Granted there are only three prongs, so if you want to mount more fighters (five is a common number in other games) then you are out of luck. I'm also a little bit concerned about the longevity. Since they're modeled after piano wire they bend well even though they're made of pewter, but depending on how well protected the stands are when packed into figure cases I can imagine them getting weakened. The best solution would probably be a magnetized base on a metal tray. It's really nice to be able to position the models on the stand pretty much freely. You can go for different kinds of formations, creating more variety and so on. Good stuff!

And I think that is about it! This is the first of the new Jovian releases and we have the Vindicator and Retaliator up for pre-order already. It'll be interesting to see what other exos we might see - I wouldn't be surprised to see the Stormrider. Perhaps there will also be some of the newer mecha that were never released for the original Lightning Strike. Keeping my fingers crossed!

I'll leave you with a picture of them all lined up with the Thunderbolt cruiser and a common reference onigiri. Next week I'll take a look at the wave 1 CEGA stuff - the Wraith, the Syreen and the Wyvern!

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale Exo armors

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Friday, 18 March 2016

Infinity Release Highlights

"Whats this now?! I thought you'd stopped reporting Infinity releases!" I hear you say. And yes, I've retired those particular posts at this point in time, but that doesn't mean I get all excited at the end of the month or whenever we get a new sneak peak. It has now been 9 months since I wrote about the last releases and there's been some spectacular stuff added to the range since then. I thought it would be fun to have a look back and just pick a few of my favourites.

August (there were no July releases) was all about USAriadna, which I didn't feel were all that interesting. We got the Tiger Soldier with Spitfire which I'll definitely get, but from a minis perspective I think this Alguaciles hacker wins out! An odd release, seeing as there's a different version in the Corregidor Starter (that I also like) but a welcome one. I quite like the pose and the intense focus he seems to have. Nice model! Would have to consider replacing the starter set hacker with this one and use the other as HVT if I ever start that Corregidor force I've been thinking about.

What's that you say? Corregidor? Yes... I'm in love with almost all Corregidor models and the Mobile Brigada is in the top two (guess top one!) so I was happy to see this nice box of four more deadly looking beetles! I still find it silly that the female minis are so thin compared to the very bulky males - you'd think they'd look pretty much the same after putting on power armour - but at least it's not as bad as the female Hsien or Hac Tao! They look good though I wouldn't mind some less static poses. Hmm... aren't heavy infantry releases generally fairly static? Anyway, love the reloading of ths shotgun and the dainty looking gun in the hand of the hacker!

October brought us the updated Guija TAG for Yu Jing and what an update it proved to be! While I still really like the original version this does look better. The only things I would have changed from a design perspective is to make the thighs bigger again (to keep the landmate feel) and make the head... weirder. I much prefer the Briareos look of the original to this very humanoid head. Finally, the pose with the sword is what makes me really sad. Yes, it's kind of cool, but I much prefer my TAGs to look like they're do ingwhat they do best - shooting people! When I get this I'm seriously going to consider converting it to actually holding and firing that Multi-HMG it's got stuck on it's back. Still, it's a lovely looking TAG!

Not satisfied with a huge TAG CB also gave us a new Azra'il in October. This is quite an update! We had of course seen the Feuerbach variant earlier but I like this one even better. The new Haqq HMG looks great and the box magazines on the back are big and chunky which i like. Tht final touch is the shield on the right arm, reminiscent of Kerberos Panzer Cops. Hmm... can you tell I like big burly robot-y stuff yet?

Oh, you couldn't tell? Alright, let me spell it out for you with even more power armour goodness!! The Domaru Butai box was delayed a couple of months until November, but well worth waiting for! This is an excellent update of the old design that incorporates parts from Neko Oyama (the haidate - thigh armour) and also retains the dynamic poses that very much fit the Domaru. Getting a Spitfire also unlocks a bunch of new options for army building. I've always been a great fan of the Domaru and if I ever expand my Yu Jing enough to run JSA I think I'll have to try a Domaru link.

Ok, so it's not only about the power armour... I like this guy more than Achilles v2! Spektrs are generally just cool and this guy has the coolest looking gun and is about to put down a mine which is something I love to do with my skirmishers! The pose is a little bit odd when you think about it, but at first glance it looks good enough so no reason to dwell I suppose.

Back to the power armour again! January brought us another new Hac Tao. This time we finally got the hacker that had been mentioned earlier and it's weird and great looking at the same time. Weird because... why does he have his sword out? Great because (among other things) he has his Multi-rifle actually slung! This is something you rarely see on Infinity minis which makes me appreciate this Hac Tao all the more for it. Also, the general update to the Hac Tao is superb and it brings much needed detail to the earlier fairly plain armour. Now I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that the next Hac Tao will be female! January also contained the Desperados and Govads which almost made the cut into this highlight list.

February brought us another lovely Nomads release - the new and exciting Bandit! Boarding shotgun for the win again, and a neat hood/mask combo that I really like. The running pose works great as well, the only thing that looks a bit odd is the silly way he holds the sword. I understand what the sculptor had in mind but fighting like that simply doesn't make much sense. I'll most likely adjust it by cutting the sword off and turning it around so the blade goes up under his left arm. Whenever I get this guy that is!

Yes, more power armour! Hector came as a bit of a surprise to me and I think I've found the leader that I want to try and build my Steel Phalanx around. Achilles is cool and all but he's a bit headstrong. Hector seems like a much more tactical thinker. The model is nice and big with a very character tinbot and huge revolver! While the gun looks cool I at the same time feel it's a missed opportunity not to model an ALEPH plasma rifle. We've never seen anything like that before! Still, this way it's easy to use the model for whichever profile. If you're wondering why the Su Jian didn't make it it's simply because I prefer the old model - more weird and robotic looking.

Which brings us to the current releases this March. This felt a bit like one of those months where CB goes thin on releases to get the schedule back on track. Sure the HVTs are pretty cool and I'll pick up the Dragon Lady for sure, but it feels like secondary releases in a way. Still, we got the cool looking Kanren for Yu Jing! This guy is some kind of counter-insurgent, working hard to root out threats against the StateEmpire. Seemingly a very interesting toolbox model that I'm looking forward to try out.

And here's where we are now! I got to say it's been a nice past few months for us Yu Jing players with releases in six of the nine months! I have kind of reached a point now where I hesitate to paint any of my older Yu Jing models as I suspect we'll see updated versions of most of them soon enough. The quality keeps on rising steadily and although I picked mostly the big impressive power armour guys in this highlight there are so many spectacular looking lighters troops as well.

Really looking forward to seeing what else 2016 has in store. I certainly wouldn't mind resculpts of the Zhanshi line troops (and maybe Keisotsu butai) as well as the Shang Ji and Hsien. The latter two have awesome looking sculpts already but they are very much on the small side, so just a lighter update to get them into the same size as the rest of the power armour infantry might be enough.

Anyway, those are some Inifnity thoughts! See you later!
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Thursday, 10 March 2016

Jovian Chronicles Odyssey Seed - Part 1

Jovian Chronicles rpg session
I only snapped one picture while we played but it really captures the session perfectly!
It finally happened! Before jetting off to Japan we managed to squeeze in our first session of Jovian Chronicles - a game that has sat on my shelf, unplayed but not unread, since 1997!

As you can see we're playing with the first edition rules, although I might steal a few things from Core Command when it feels like a better fit. I've said before that I quite like the basics of the Silhouette system and planning for the session, where we would be making characters, my only worry was the abundance of different skills. As a game from the nineties Jovian Chronicles do suffer from maybe too much granularity when it comes to skills and equipment. While I love that in one way, it's great for world building and getting into the setting, it can certainly put some stumbling blocks before actual play. Still, I didn't want to charge in swinging the axe of Houserulius before running for a bit with the original system.

So the first couple of hours went to an explanation of the setting and character generation. I have put together a shared Google Drive folder where I collect all kinds of stuff that can work well as inspiration for the game, mostly tv series like The Expanse and Mobile Suit Gundam, so that my players could get some groundwork done before the game. Naturally I've filled it with much more than I expected or even hoped anyone to consume, based on the idea that a smorgasbord where you can pick your fancy is better than a set menu. Or something. In the end people were more or less familiar with Gundam (mostly less) and while that is certainly a big part of JC there's just so much more to the setting! I think I ended up just talking about the history of the solar system, the Jovian colonies, CEGA and briefly the other solar nations for almost an hour.

Jovian Chronicles, Uller cruisers and Syreens
A flight of Syreens screaming past a group of Uller missile cruisers.
Usually just "explaining" a setting like that ends up with your players asleep or with their eyes glued to their phones, but thanks to both the well written and real feeling history of the game and the wealth of details that perfectly captures your imagination ("the relatively cramped living conditions on Jovian colonies has lead to Jovian musicians often straining to create as rich music as possible while its still low key and personal") it actually got the players interested! Of course it wasn't just me talking either, but the players asking all kinds of questions about past events, every day life in space or their current situation as Jovian citizens.

Then it was time to get into actual character creation and although it looks like a quick process at first glance, what draws it out is the completely open choice in choosing attributes and skills, and players looking all of them up to see what they do. As I mentioned earlier the skill chapter really shows from what era the game is from and when you have Zero-G Maneuvering and Zero-G Combat it starts to feel a little redundant (yes, those are technically different skills, but why not shoot for brevity?). Still, we're starting out playing it rules as written.

For the start of the campaign each character is an exo pilot in the Jovian Armed Forces, but secondary/parallel characters will most likely be introduced once this particular episode is over. We ended up with Pierre Dutronc (left), a francofile smooth talker who ended up as the squad leader as well, Harrison B. Sturmer, famed for his sharpshooting rather than his sharp flying and Leif "Swede" Ericsen, the veteran who always seem to have the best tactical grasp of the situation at hand. The characters will need more fleshing out but as we start in media res and the players are still not all that familiar with the setting they are fairly blank slates personality wise at the moment.

The table decides that they should belong to the Black Cats squadron, meaning they have a very informal attitude and a penchant for hijinks, and the three pilots make up Angels 1-3 of Angel Flight (Dutronc claims that a girl once called him Angelface and decided, in a moment of self-aggrandizing, that this was something to name his flight after).

Pathfinder Alpha for Jovian Chronicles
A Pathfinder CT and a standard Pathfinder.
What we will actually be playing is the Odyssey campaign from the first Green Book, or rather the updated version from 2004 called Odyssey Seed, that is a bit more fleshed out. In the first edition of the game the Odyssey is already history and incorporated into the background setting so we're actually turning the clock back two years when playing - meaning the Wyvern is a new exo-armor and the Valiant is still under construction.

Potential SPOILERS for Odyssey Seed below!

We open with the three pilots in their respective exo-armors - Dutronc in a Pathfinder CT, Swede in a standard Pathfinder Alpha and Sturmer in a Retaliator - patrolling a certain sector in close proximity to Jupiter. Oddly they've had this same assignment for the past few days now. We hear the usual chatter between the colleagues while Dutronc is piping some classic Edith Piaf through the comms (he owns three original vinyls, carefully sourced from Earth at great expense!).

Jovian Chronicles, Ebiiru transportSuddenly a blip appears on the scopes of the Pathfinder CT and after checking for scheduled ships in this sector at this time the squad moves to intercept. It turns out that the blip is an Ebiiru cargo hauler (see right) called Nighthawk and it claims to have some mechanical troubles. The captain seems evasive and while the transport complies with orders there are some strange power readings going on and Swede spots someone in a vacsuit actually welding on one of the containers attached to the hull. As Sturmer is trying to lock down where the odd power sources are emanating from the entire squad find their communications jammed. Something is afoot! While Dutronc can use the superior ECCM equipment of his Pathfinder CT to break through the jamming locally he's not able to contact command for advice.

Fearing the worst Sturmer moves in closer to the Nighthawk, and the welder specifically, while Swede hangs back to cover him. He has locked down the power readings as coming from inside two of the attached containers and he realizes that the signatures look awfully similar to the newest exo-armors from CEGA! Just a couple of klicks away the container that is being welded upon suddenly swings open and a large green shape can be seen moving inside. A second later another container is pierced from the inside by what looks like a hummer knife and a second Wyvern blasts out into space!

Aaaaand cliffhanger!!

Yepp, although we were all eager to at least play out the current scene, the prepp had taken a little longer than anticipated and real life made itself known as one of us had an early-ish deadline. Actually though, it was a perfect point for us to end the session at it allows me to read up a little extra on the combat rules and make sure the combat flows as smoothly as it should. Three against two seems like it should be an easy fight, but the Wyverns are tough and our three pilots aren't that skilled - Dutranc is better at seduction than firing a gun and Swede would rather meet his opponent on the judo mat than in space!

The date for the next session hasn't been set yet, but hopefully we'll be able to try out a game over roll20 or Skype and then continue when I'm back in Sweden. Oh, and I think we'll simply integrate our missing player in the next session and retcon that he was there or along. It's not that all that much has happened anyway. Hehe!

Well, that's about it for the first session. Stay tuned for the next...


Sunday, 6 March 2016

MERCS: Recon - First Impressions

MERCS: Recon

It finally happened, a large box was delivered and it contained the two core MERCS: Recon boxes - Counter Threat, containing EU and CCC, and Assassination Protocol, containing KemVar and Keizai Waza. There are of course a lots of stuff still missing as MegaCon elected to send out the core games as soon as they were ready to get people playing. The second wave, containing everything else, is on its way from China as we speak and if the European distributor is not as slow delivering it as it was with the first wave and the MYTH 2.0 stuff (more than a month in their warehouse!!) then it should be with backers during April at least.

MERCS: Recon Assassination Protocol gameplay (KemVar)
This is how it starts, nice and quiet with just a couple of SecFor I and some scared workers cowering in the corner. It's deceivingly calm.
While I have yet to play a complete game with other actual humans I have played it a few times solo, something it is exceedingly suitable for. It's not that it simply works solo, but it is actually loads of fun solo! I played my first couple of games as KemVar and actually managed to win the very first one as my team went in, secured the objective through a breach and clear and proceeded to exit to a waiting hovercraft. The Shock Trooper bit the dust in the final to last turn (although I had forgotten all about the KemVar active camo) but I guess that's simply the price of success.

MERCS: Recon Assassination Protocol gameplay
Then you find yourself being chased down a corridor by EVERY GUY WITH A GUN!!
The second mission ended horribly in an ill planned B&C where I needed to destroy the objective. I could probably have done it if I had managed my resources better, by trying to interrogate more special workers and interacting with some of the useful non-objective items. Instead I went in way too early and got my butt kicked.

MERCS: Recon Assassination Protocol gameplay, B&C
Here's that catastrophic B&C I mentioned above. 
Game number three we actually had to abort early due to time constraints, but both Nicke and Jacob enjoyed it and would like to play a full game. Even though they both had a bad experience with MYTH and Jacob thinks it's basically the spawn of the devil (yes, he's obviously both mistaken and delusional, but there's a kernel of truth there as they tried playing MYTH 1.0 and I wasn't there to help with the rules). The game itself went quite well for us by the time we packed it in though.

MERCS: Recon Assassination Protocol gameplay
Burke's Law is very much in effect. When you have three guys covering a corner to nail that nasty SecFor IV don't be surprised if two mooks with shotguns just walks up behind you and unload all they've got! Should have had my heavy covering the other direciton.
In the fourth game I switched to Keizai Waza for another objective destruction mission. This game was more tense generally as the Waza simply aren't as sneaky as KemVar and not as good at handling civilians, so the security level kept moving up and I had uncontrolled workers running about. At one point I simply had to make a cold blooded decision and simply executed a bunch of civilians to free up my movement. The future is a bleak and horrible place. In the end the B&C was a failure as one point was missing to destroy the objective, but I decided to keep playing anyway since it would be my last game until I'm back in Sweden in May (currently in Japan by the way). The retreat to the extraction point was a really close affair with SecFor crashing in through the windows to get at my, at this point in time, rather battered MERCS. All of them did make it, but this was of course purely a tangent as I had actually already lost in the B&C.

So the game is lots of fun, make no mistake. It might perhaps become a bit samey if you play it often enough, even with all the built in modularity. But I'm not really worried about that as I have lots of expansions incoming which not only expands on the core game but adds another game on top of it, called Lockdown, where you switch side and try to pour your security forces at some invading MERCS! And even if these two core boxes were all I had it would be a great addition to the collection as I really don't have anything quite like it. You might compare it to Space Hulk or Level 7 or some other sci fi game with dudes on a board, but as far as I'm concerned the experience of trying to keep a low profile during a slowly growing tornado is unique enough to have it sit comfortably next to any of those games.

This is what my first office complex looked like. Different every time.
As for the quality of the physical game - I've read a lot of comments on the KS page and the MegaCon forums to know that there have been many issues with the printing of the tiles and MegaCon are taking measures to correct this. It seems like I've been one of the lucky ones as I really haven't had any trouble besides some small scuff marks, that I can live with. I am a little worried about how durable the tiles are and if they might split further down the line, as you can clearly see the different cardboard layers making up the tile, but so far so good. It's something to keep an eye on though.

I have also seen people complain about the minis and this I actually have a hard time understanding. Yes, they are not as good as "proper" wargame miniatures from the likes of GW or Corvus Belli but they certainly hold up if you compare them to many other wargame miniatures. If I recall correctly MegaCon said that the minis would be of MYTH quality or better and that is pretty much what we have - same quality level as MYTH. They look good put together and some paint will make them look even better. What I think might be a problem for many who buy this game in retail is the fact that the minis come unassembled and in need of some (quick) cleanup. For a modeler it's a breeze but pure boardgamers are in for a surprise as theres nothing on the back of the box saying it requires assembly! Slap on the fingers there for sure. Oh, and sorry for no pictures of the minis, I simply forgot to take any good ones before leaving so use your google powers!

The rulebook in the box is also in dire need of tightening up with many things poorly explained, explained wrongly or simply not explained at all. It's certainly not as bad as the first MYTH rulebook and the game is playable but will leave you with some questions. However, MegaCon Games have been on the ball with this issue and have answered questions on their forum and made tutorial videos. Just the other day they released an extensive updated FAQ and an improved rulebook in PDF form which takes care of all the questions I've run across so far. So my advice is simply to print the new rulebook and FAQ and you'll be all set.

Bottom line: this is a very neat game with lots of different ways approach the mission and lots of freedom on how you set it up. The minis and board look great and the gameplay usually goes from tense to straight out stressful! Oh, and it's bloody hard as well! You might have noticed that I lost two of my three completed games, and this is just how I like my co-ops - if you manage to win more then 50% of the time the game is probably too easy and simply not as fun. So far so good on MERCS: Recon.

Now I'm eagerly looking forward to all the extra stuff! Like new MERCS teams, special OpFor characters, new missions, Lockdown mode, zombies(!), drones and piles and piles of figures!

What I have to look forward to. Plus the MERCS 2.0 tabletop game and some other stuff!

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Monday, 15 February 2016

The Future of Jovian Chronicles - Interview with Robert Dubois of DP9

Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale EXO armors

Today I have a treat for you, dear cosmonuts! With new releases being announced for Jovian Chronicles/Lightning Strike I contacted Robert Dubois, the CEO of Dream Pod 9, to see what the future might hold for the game(s). It turns out that there are a number of exciting developments in store and I have started prepping my ship models for battle.

Before we move on I'll just mention that we are mostly refering to Jovian Chronicles in the interview which, if you want to get technical, is the rpg (which has tactical rules that use miniatures) while Lightning Strike is the dedicated miniatures game. However what we are really talking about is Lightning Strike or a future version of Lightning Strike, although it may end up with a different name.

Alright, so lets just get to it!

Fire Broadside: Hi Robert, I'm glad to have you hear to talk about what's going on with Jovian Chronicles and what the future might bring. But before we get into that could you just tell us briefly who you are and perhaps a quick recap of the Jovian Chronicles game?

The original Jovian Chronicles supplement for MektonRobert Dubois: Hi Martin. Well, I'm Robert Dubois, the president of Dream Pod 9. The company has been around since 1995 when we published our first Heavy Gear book, the roleplaying and tactical game. Since then the company went on to team up with Activision for a couple of computer games based on Heavy Gear and made a tv-series together with Sony.

When we go back even further into our history we were actually a company called IANUS Publications who published the Protoculture Addicts and Mecha Press magazines, that were all about anime and manga. We started working with R. Talsorian Games back in the early nineties to publish some Mekton books and that's how Jovian Chronicles came into being. We were doing some Cyberpunk stuff for them, and then we published Jovian Chronicles which was our tribute to Gundam, giant robots and all that stuff.

Later, after Heavy Gear was published, we decided to re-do it with our own system - the Silhouette core system. We came out with a bunch of books and miniatures for Jovian Chronicles and one thing that did very well for us was Lightning Strike, which was a tabletop miniatures game based on the Jovian Chronicles setting. You had fleets of ships and exo-armors fighting it out on the table and now we're actually working on an updated version of that that will allow you to field smaller scale, about 15mm tall, exo-armors instead of the old large scale ones.

FB: Yes, this announcement really put me over the moon! I remember coming across the first edition from DP9, back in 1997, and flicking through it realized I had to have it. While I hadn't really seen much Gundam at this time I was familiar with Macross and loved the mecha. However, what really amazed me was the solid hard scifi, adhering to proper physics (most of the time), and the both deep and broad background setting for the game!

RD: Yeah, our team from way back then, like Marc A. Vezina, all come from an engineering background. They really like to have the hard science, with the ships designed properly with gravity only coming from thrust or through centrifuges or actually spinning the ship. There is no gravity plating like you see in Star Trek.

FB: Exactly, there is no space magic. And I love that especially as it feels lite something that's fairly rare, not only in roleplaying games, but in movies, books and on tv as well. There's usually some handwaving going on to explain all the "unrealistic" things.

RD: That's the beauty of Star Trek - technobabble explains everything! Somebody sneezed and they go back in time; "Yeah, we'll just write something around that. Physics, no no, we don't need that.". But with Jovian Chronicles we tried to have the physics working, which is also true of course, for Heavy Gear. We wanted to have the hard science as that was the background of the guys in our company. We had just got out of college and we loved tabletop games so we decided to start our own company!

FB: And you're still here! So, focusing on the Jovian Chronicles and the miniatures for a bit, I got the impression that one reason for having the larger 30mm exo-armors in the beginning was connected to the tactical game in the rpg that was much more of a skirmish experience than Lightning Strike.

RD: Yes, the original tactical rules in the first edition of the rpg was written for maybe five exo-armors per side and it has the full 3D combat, it has vectored thrust and it has the X, Y and Z axis. So you had to either raise your miniature up into the air or use a lot of counters! Lightning Strike simplified this to a 2D plane and streamlined version of vectored thrust and in the future edition we would aim to streamline it further. In the old tactical rules you could run your exo of the table if you didn't apply counter-thrust properly!

FB: Hehe! That actually happened to me the other day as I was doing some solo tests of the tactical rules in preparation of running our rpg campaign - one of the exo-armors simply wooshed off the table as I realized I didn't have enough thrust to turn in time. Still, I think it brings a certain something to the game, even with the much simplified "vector tokens" that are used in Lightning Strike. Do you think we might see something like that in the updated rules?

RD: I think we’ll try and remove as many counters and tokens from the tabletop as possible in a new ruleset as they tend to slow down the game. So I don’t see full vectored thrust rules like in the rpg, as for keeping the thrust arrow from Lightning Strike, we’ll have to look at that. New rules will have to go through alpha and beta versions, where we get feedback from the players before they are locked down.

You got to be careful with the hard science, going to the extreme. In fact, back when Wunji Lau, who wrote the Europa Incident (among other stuff), started working on Lightning Strike we decided to make it more for selling miniatures than for selling an rpg. There are two different dynamics between the two types. In an rpg you want a lot of background and fluff that people can really get engrossed in - technical flaws like, the players find out that there's something wrong with a particular model; if you push it too hard it might explode or something like that!

But in a miniatures game people just want to know, "ok the miniatures look cool, there are cool rules that allow you to fight against one another in a balanced battle", so there has to be a point system for how to build your fleets and all that. Sometimes you can't take what's in the fluff of the rpg and translate it since a player might go "well, why would I ever buy this miniature if it has this major defect?!".

FB: Making a balanced miniatures game is certainly a very different experience from an rpg. Will the new version basically be a smaller update to the current Lightning Strike rules, mainly taking into account the switch of one exo per stand to three, or will it be a major overhaul, like what you have done with Heavy Gear?

RD: It's going to be a little bit different. What Wunji and I are talking about right now is how to update it and bring it to the level people expect of a miniatures game these days. Like I said, less counters to keep track of stuff and so on. One thing we realized is the way we wrote Lightning Strike and the way we abstracted things back then is not ideal in todays gaming climate. We had the exo-armors as these 35mm tall miniatures and the ships being maybe 60mm long so it was not exactly to scale. 1/500 scale for the exos and fighters and 1/5000 for the ships.

We explained that in Lightning Strike by saying that you are actually the admiral on the bridge looking at this projection of the battle, and of course the projection is not going to show a pinprick of light that was your exo-armor but a blown up image to make it easy to grasp. What we're saying now is that instead of just one exo-armor what we have is an entire squad of exo-armors. We'll go and redo the rules and get feedback from the players to streamline it down. You'll have squads of exos and you'll have ace exo flights, and when we come about doing the Dragonstriker or the Stormrider we'll have just one big model representing it.

Pathfinder EXO armour in fleet scale for Jovian Chronicles
We can't really have them to exact scale as even with 15mm exos the ships would become very big and too expensive for the regular player. Having players shill out $50 for one ship just to have it in scale isn't worth it, sometimes you have to abstract it.

Anyway, we did some massive changes to Heavy Gear with the latest rules (downloadable for free here), and we will probably do something similar to this with Lightning Strike. We want to get it to the point where it's easier to built your fleets and have faster dice rolling mechanics so we can speed up the gameplay just like we did with Heavy Gear. That's not to say that it will be exactly like those rules, we'll likely throw in some different stuff to try out and get peoples feedback on. We want to make sure that every weapon upgrade or every pack of exos are viable in the game - "what does this pack bring that the other doesn't?".

FB: So probably some major changes incoming. Will the process be similar to how you are handling the latest iteration of Heavy Gear, with beta testing etc?

RD: We'll be sure to do alpha tests and beta tests to get some good feedback. As game designers you can have this idea in your head and you think it'll work perfectly and then someone out there goes and says "but what if you do this?" and you realize it completely breaks the game.

Mechanics are far from nailed down but we're probably going to have a dice pool similar to Heavy Gear where you add or subtract the number of dice in the pool rather than applying modifiers to the actual roll. Basically we want to keep the positives and get rid of any negatives and defects. For example if you have a ship in the old rules which doesn't have the range to hit the enemy ships at the other side of the table, it's going to get somthing that can do that. Since battles are usually between ships firing at each other and some exos trying outmaneuver and outgun each other to get to the enemy ships.

FB: Well, having units that can actually do stuff is usually more fun. And as far as the scale goes, I think having exos and fighters at 15mm and ships staying at the scale they are now will be just fine. Yes, it's still out of scale but it's close enough that our brain can have you look past it and it feels like it makes sense on the tabletop.

Hector EXO armour in fleet scale for Jovian Chronicles
RD: Exactly. Right now we're trying it out, first releasing the Jovian and CEGA fighters and we just released images of the new exo-armors, the Pathfinder and Hector for the Jovians and the Wyvern and Syreen for CEGA. Our sculptor, Tony Baltera, is working on some other things in the background now so we're getting some more Jovian and CEGA exos and eventually he's even going to work on some of the Venus stuff like the Ryu and the Brunhilde fighter. We basically want to get what we had in the old 1/500 scale, all the fighters and exos, into the new fleetscale. Then after that we're going to look into how we can actually pay for maybe doing new ship designs and all that. We've talked about the possibility of doing it as a kickstarter, you never know. There are a lot of ship designs out there that we never sculpted.

FB: Yes, the ships in the Fleet books are among some of the best hard scifi designs I've come across in any medium. Not only that, but they also look very sleek and cool so that people who might not be all that interested in the physics can appreciate them for their looks alone. I think they're beautifull and I'm sure they would sell like hotcakes!

RD: Right now it's all about making sure there's a market for it and building up a new fan base, as we haven't had anything new come out for the game for a while. Our main focus has been Heavy Gear as that is our main product line. There's a new computer game in the works for Heavy Gear as well...

FB: And a new rpg!

RD: Yepp, and a new rpg. There is some other stuff in the background we can't mention yet. A lot of people have been asking us "are you ever going to do anything more for Jovian Chronicles? What happened to the fleetscale fighters you showed us back in 2006?" and at one point we actually looked for them and finally dug them us as they were in a box, buried in another box in storage. So we thought "ok, let's put it out there before Christmas and see if people are interested" and we got a lot of positive responses!

Alexander class destroyer for Jovian Chronicles
Alexander class Destroyer from Fleet Book 1. Beautiful stuff!

FB: That doesn't surprise me. I have read a lot of positive reactions and comments to the new fleetscale stuff. People seem really excited for it and not only old JC fans, but also people who become interested mostly because of the Gundam connection or because of the simple fact that there are almost no fleet scale mecha fighter miniatures out there.

RD: Tony has been learning over the last year how to actually do 3D models that will cast well.
Syreen EXO armour in fleet scale for Jovian Chronicles
You'll notice, when you zoom in on the pictures of the new exos, that we've actually pushed the arms into the body. Because when you cast these as one piece miniatures you can't have undercuts, so it's learning how big you can make the detail to make it show up nicely. Since doing a 3D model and having one that can be rapid prototyped and look good as an actual miniature are two different things. You can put the most insane amount of detail on a 3D model, and many kickstarters do this, but it just makes me think "you can't do that. It won't show up on the model".

We're going to see how far we can push the limit with Jovian Chronicles. Some guns might give us trouble depending on how they are pointed and in that case we might have to do some exos as two piece miniatures. We use Maya to create the actual 3D model which can be exported as an object file that can then be sent to a company like Shapeways for rapid prototyping. But it's actually when you get the model back that the real skillfull jobb actually happens as you have to take that and turn it into a miniature. You can't simply cast the prototype but you have to first seal it, as it's porous, and often you need to sand it to get rid of print lines. We then do silicon moulds, running a specialized resin that can survive the vulcanization process, and we take those parts that are then cleaned up again and we make a vulcanized rubber moulds to run pewter. It's not as expensive as doing plastic but it still costs a bit to do each one. You got to pay for the mould being cut and test runs, but you still get away with $400 or $500 in cost to get stuff into production. Compared to the moulds for the plastic models in the Heavy Gear kickstarter where each one is about $15,000!

FB: That is quite big chunk of change indeed! But apart from the plastics you will be doing for Heavy Gear, the pewter and resin casting is all done in-house, right?

RD: Yeah, we do everything in-house. We're working with Fusion Models who actually handles the making of the silicon moulds and Alain Gadbois, who runs that company, was actually our original sculptor back when we started the company. Fusion Models do our large scale Heavy Gear and Jovian Chronicles kits, but Alain is a WW2 buff and does mostly historical stuff, although there are some sci-fi stuff there as well - he's a geek like the rest of us. He's also very experienced with this, not only doing models but everything from race car steering wheels to hearing-aids to parts for military aircraft. Still, we have both resin casting and pewter spin casting set up in the office so it can be done by us with full control. With the plastics we're having a company just north of Indianapolis who are going to run the plastics for us. That way we can control the chain of command much better.

FB: Seems like a good idea considering how often companies have trouble when doing the casting in China.

RD: Yes, just being able to call up and ask them to print 500 more of something and then having it shipped by UPS a week later is a big difference compared to the slow boat from China.

FB: Alright, getting back to Jovian Chronicles for a bit and the new exo-armors. How did the idea of having stands of three exos come about?

RD: We liked the idea of having three to a stand and one of them being the leader or ace and being marked in a cool way, like with the plasma lance or the axe.

Wyvern EXO armour in fleet scale for Jovian ChroniclesFB: Love the axe! Very Zaku!

RD: Yeah, that's the idea. The guns change as well for the leaders with the Pathfinder getting a larger one while the Wyvern gets a smaller mass-driver. The Syreen was more difficult as there's no differences in how it is equipped. So we tried sweeping the wings back and giving it a kind of forward motion which I think works.

The stands are actually moulded from piano wire which gives them this ribbing that allows them to flex without breaking easily. There is also a ball joint at each end that match up with the ball sockets at the back of the exos. So you have a lot of freedom in how you pose them. We did have to remove the Hector's fourth thruster leg to make room for the ball socket, otherwise it would have been impossible to get out of the mould.

As I mentioned earlier we're hoping to convert most of the fighters and exos to fleet scale during the course of this year and then see if there's enough demand for more spaceships and updated rules. Possibly there would be a kickstarter or doing our own crowd funding just using the website and make sure we get a certain number of pre-orders to pay for all the models, the rapid prototyping, making the moulds and so on. We get enough orders and it happens.

FB: I know it's way too early to talk timeframes here, but I expect any kind of crowd funding would happen next year?

RD: Yes, it wouldn't be this year. Now we're focused on fulfilling our kickstarter for Heavy Gear. We're getting the moulds back from China some time in April and they'll get run late April or early May and when we get all the plastics we'll be packing up orders for the next month and a half. We want to have all the stuff out for backers by the end of June and then we'll have one month to prepare all the stuff we want to take to Gencon. The plan is to have the retail version of Heavy Gear ready until then.

FB: I think a lot  of backers will be interested to hear this, of which I am one of course. Nice to hear the retail box will be at Gencon - plastics should certainly open up for a larger audience. But... getting back into space again! While they are quite small at 15mm have you considered doing some kind of equipment or conversion pack for the exos, similar to the Weapons and Drones pack that is available in the old scale?

RD: It's possible, but we don't want to get too specifik on things. If we go and say that you have to represent your miniature 100% WYSIWYG like we do with Heavy Gear we limit ourselves, because we force people to buy an insane amount of different models. We want to do something more similar to, for example, Star Wars: X-Wing where you have one X-Wing model but then you equip it with different cards and upgrades. So something similar to this, perhaps having some kind of datacard, so that you get more use out of each model. We might do some of the variants if they're different enough and depending on how they need to be cast.

We basically want to look at the parts that we have and see if we can allow people to swap or upgrade things. If we did some variants like, for example, the Wyvern Marine or Bomber that might be just a single exo-armor that you put in place of the leader to show that this squad is a squad of Marines etc.

FB: Right. So instead of a pack of conversion pieces there might be a pack of specialists or something?

RD: Yeah, probably something similar to what we did with the Heavy Gear infantry where you have basic infantrymen and one specialist in the middle of the base to show its type. That way people don't have to shell out a lof of extra money for a number of completely different squads and if you're creative you could probably magnetize the specialists so they can be swapped out as needed.

FB: I'm one of those magnet aficionados. With the new exo-armors I want to be able to use them one and one for the tactical game in the rpg as well so I'll see if I can't magnetize each mech so I can swap them around.

As we're starting to wind down, I've just got to ask about the name. We have mostly been talking about Jovian Chronicles, although the current miniature game in that setting is called Lightning Strike. Will the new/updated game be called Jovian Chronicles rather than Lightning Strike, considering it is perhaps more widely known?

RD: The final name for a new edition has not been decided yet. We’ll have to brainstorm that once work gets started on a new rule set using the new small Fleet Scale exo-armors and fighters along with the existing Jovian Chronicles spaceship miniatures. For now players will continue using the Lightning Strike rules with the small Fleet Scale exo and fighter squads representing the older individual exos and fighters. The future game may end up being call Lightning Strike 3rd Edition, Jovian Chronicles Fleet Scale, or something else entirely that we dream up.

FB: Ok. I think we've covered the new releases and the future of Jovian Chronicles pretty well by now. As a parting gift, can you tell us what is on the horizon? The Retaliator perhaps?

RD: The Retaliator and all of the other exos are queued up for Tony to work on. We do have the Fury and the Cerberus pretty much done so those might be next. And I can show you a screen capture of the Fury Fleet Scale exo armor for the CEGA faction that our 3d modeller, Tony Baltera, has been working on for a future Fleet Scale miniature release. Of course, the actual model will be tiny at 15mm so keep that in mind with regards to details.

Fury EXO armour in fleet scale for Jovian Chronicles

FB: Cool, I have always liked the look of the Fury and the Syreen! Well, it has been lots of fun talking to you Robert. I hope we can do it again when we get the new rules or if there's a kickstarter in the future.

RD: Sounds like a plan. Pleasure talking to you, Martin.

And there you have it, dear readers! The lastest info on everything Jovian Chronicles/Lightning Strike. We have six new packs up for order or pre-order right now and more will be added to this line-up during the year. Rules later on and maybe a kickstarter next year. Exciting stuff indeed! Right now I'm just looking forward to using the new exos with the current Lightning Strike rules as I think they're brilliant in many ways. It will be interesting to see what the future holds in regard to the rules.

The models will also find use in the rpg campaign as I think we'll try to incorporate the tactical rules at certain times at least. Here's what I'm looking at right now, standing in front of the monitor. You might notice there are some exo-armors missing. Well... not for long now...