Friday, July 24, 2015

Powered Play Light Up Bases Are Here

A while back Powered Play held a Kickstarter campaign to launch a line of kits for adding LEDs to miniatures. I went in on the campaign, and the kits just arrived. So here are my impressions.

Powered Base Kits
Basically, these kits contain a set laser-cut wooden spacers for different base sizes, a small PCB with a battery holder (a CR2016 battery is included), switch, and 3 LED connectors, and three LEDs of your chosen colours.

The small white things there are the LED side of the connectors; they slip onto the LED wires easily enough, but I believe they were left off to make the LEDs easier to install. Here's a shot of the spacers next to a 30mm and 40mm base for comparison:

The smallest spacer is for a 40mm base. The outer diameter is pretty much spot-on, however it's not very robust as it's quite thin; this seems to be necessary in order to allow the PCB to fit and leave enough room for the LED wires etc. I would suggest adding a bit of milliput if possible for added strength. The larger spacers are much more robust and should be more than strong enough on their own.

As you can see in this photo, the PCB is actually higher than the spacer; normally it won't be a problem since it was designed for bases that are hollow underneath, but if you're trying to add it to solid resin bases or something, you might have to figure out a solution; either milling some material from the bottom of the base or fabricating your own additional spacers, for example.

The kit comes with 3mm LEDs. These should be find for larger models like Warjacks, Dreadnoughts etc. For infantry models you might need to look into getting something smaller; check ebay for "wired 0603 LED" for example. To be completely honest I'm not sure about the voltage (I haven't spotted anything on the website, but you can always email Powered Play, I've found them to be very responsive in the past), but I assume the kit's PCB feeds 3V directly to the LEDs, so you will need to select LEDs that are happy with that voltage or add resistors as needed.

The LEDs fit fine once assembled, but there's a bit of a problem. The ends of the wires are specially prepped for the connectors that connect them to the PCB. That means that if you want to reduce the length of the wires or use your own LEDs, there's a bit of awkward soldering work necessary. Personally I would have preferred it if they had used some form of connector on the PCB that just accepts raw wires (I'm not sure if such a think is available in sufficiently small form though). Also, when fitting the small connector pieces on the wires, make sure to insert the green wire into the slot with the triangle above it, otherwise you will need to pull the wires out and insert them again, which is a bit tricky to do.

As you can see in this photo, there is not much room around the PCB in a 40mm base. I don't think it would be possible to remove the battery if you glued the PCB down, so I recommend using some form of sticky tack or something to hold it in place. I'm not sure about the 50mm base; it might be possible to glue it down while allowing enough room to change batteries, although you might want to remove some material from the spacer to make it easier. In fact I found it extremely difficult to remove the battery from an un-wired PCB that I was holding in my hand, even when using a metal tool; I would recommend leaving the PCB completely removable (especially since Powered Play mention that they may release PCBs with special effects like flickering in the future). I think that it might be easier to remove if the two metal retaining tabs are snapped off or something; if this is done it might be feasible to permanently attach the PCB under larger bases, but I can't say for sure.

Overall I think the kit should work fine for Warjacks and larger models (if you can figure out how to pass the wires up the legs...), but it looks like it will take a fair bit of work to use it with anything smaller than that. I don't see why they didn't design the PCB around a smaller battery; that might have made it easier to use overall.

Lit Objective Markers
One of the optional extras offered in the Kickstarter campaign was lit objective markers.

Each objective marker comes as three laser-cut 40mm wooden discs, and a battery holder with a LED already attached, and a clear acrylic flag. My kit came with plenty of CR2032 batteries. There was a vast selection of colours, shapes, and logos for the flags, so it was easy to find something appropriate to just about any army.

Assembly is very easy; just stack the discs and glue them together. You probably don't even need to glue in the battery holder as the fit is tight enough to retain it reliably. The flag then just slots into the top, meaning you can easily select the right flag for the occasion. There is a problem though; due to a pair of retaining tabs, the battery holder doesn't actually fit into the bottom spacer correctly:
Either the battery holder sticks out a bit from the top...
... or the tabs stick out from the bottom.

This problem could probably be resolved by removing some material from the middle spacer. It might also be possible to remove the two plastic tabs; however these seem to be necessary for retaining the battery connector, so you would need to securely glue it down at least, and even then I would be a little worried. I wonder if it would have been possible to use a smaller battery holder, perhaps one that uses the same (thinner) batteries as the powered bases (although this holder can use the same batteries as they are the same voltage and diameter).

Overall I really like these objective markers. They are easy to assemble and use, and they look pretty good straight out of the box. Of course you can paint and decorate them as you wish. You can easily sit them on top of 50mm round-lipped bases if needed.

Clear Lava Bases
The last of the goodies I received from the Kickstarter was a set of 5 clear resin lava-themed bases.

These are cast in a deep red, which personally I don't see the need for; if they had been cast in clear resin then the end-user could have easily selected the colours he wanted for the final base using appropriate coloured LEDs and washes or inks. Perhaps a white LED shining through red tinted resin comes out brighter than a red LED shining through clear resin? I don't know.

These are not really suitable for use as "base toppers" for 50mm recessed round-lipped bases due to them already having a flat bevelled rim, and the diamater is too large to top normal 40mm bases. The diameter on the ones I received was just a hair smaller than a GW 40mm base or a PP round-lipped 40mm base:
You can see the the bottom of the PP 40mm base is a bit wider than the lava base.

This means that they really want to either be used as a stand-alone base (which they are not quite suitable for in some games due to their diameter being a touch too small), or sit on top of a straight-sided 40mm base, like the 40mm spacer provided in the powered base kit. Unfortunately, because they are completely solid with a flat base, they won't fit on top of the kit due to the PCB being too high; plus the diamater difference is a problem since the spacer is so thin:

They could conceivably be used on top of the lit objective markers (at least the bottom two discs), although a bit of material should probably be removed to allow the LED to better light the base:

Overall I'm not entirely sure how I'm expected to use these bases. Of course I personally have the means to cut out plasticard spacers of the necessary diameter and height to use these with the powered kits if I really want to, but that's more work than I expected and some hobbyists might have a harder time of it than me. Plus the bases will end up quite high and changing batteries will be a pain. The bases really should not have been completely solid, and should have left enough room for the PCB since they were custom-designed for this Kickstarter campaign. Perhaps the best option would be to use them on their own as a model base, and have a "display plinth" with lights in the base, so the model lights up when it's on display. I can see that being worked into a display board for Armies On Parade or something, although you'd probably have to light up half the board with lava if you want them to fit. That would look amazing, though the models probably wouldn't be the focus at that point.

I really like the lit objective markers. The powered bases have potential, but I think they could use a bit more refinement, and I wouldn't want to use them for anything smaller than a 50mm base. I don't see myself using the resin bases at all unfortunately.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Greed will devour us all

I finally had time for some Warmachine. I played a minor variation on the Butcher list that I've more-or-less settled on:
Alexia & the Risen
Kayazy Eliminators
Koldun Lord

My opponent was still trying out the same list as last time; only it seems he was  a actually a few points over 35 and had to make a couple of small changes:
Xersis I
-Basilisk Drake
-Basilisk Drake
-Basilisk Krea
Aptimus Marketh
Ancestral Guardian
Hakaar the Destroyer

We were playing... something with a central zone, two objectives, and a flag on each side that had to be dominated to score. I picked the objective that gave free charges because I was too lazy to think about what was most useful to my army. I believe he picked the Arcane Wonder for reduced cost when casting upkeeps. I won the roll-off and decided to go first for a change.

So last time when I put the Nyss on one side and the Risen on the other, I realised that left the Risen's flank as too weak and easy to roll through, with a low chance of collecting corpses. So this time I decided to actually follow conventional wisdom and put the Risen behind the rest of my infantry; I ended up with the battlegroup in the center and half of each unit on each side. The Eliminators went way in the back, with some space between them; I've become paranoid about losing them to boosted sprays, so I decided I would save them for the later game.

He also intermixed his infantry, with alternating rows together in a brick.

Round 1:
I spread out my Nyss and split up my warjaxes*. I had foolishly placed both my unit leaders behind my battlegroup without leaving room for them to get through, then activated the units first. As a result I ended up with a Nyss Hunter out of formation and couldn't give them Iron Flesh this turn. No big deal in this case since my opponent didn't have much ranged firepower. I had a lot of trouble deciding where to put everything; unlike my opponent I didn't have Martial Discipline so I had to try to figure out what I would need them to do later in order to leave them avenues to advance if needed. I put Fury on the Kodiak.

My opponent ran everything forwards. He put Defenders Ward on the Immortals and put up Paralytic Aura with the Krea and possibly with Xersis.

Round 2:
The Nyss stood still for the aiming bonus and shot down a bunch of Nihilators, then Zephyred backwards (I made sure to leave a few in the zone). My jaxes moved up a bit more, while everything else just shuffled about a bit. Alexia created a Thrall while charged an Immortal, but missed the attack. Butcher finally put Iron Flesh on the Nyss.

Holding his Nihilators back, he killed the Thrall and ran his Immortals forward to engage a few of the Nyss.

Round 3:
I dropped Fury and gave the Spriggan a full load of focus. Using melee attacks and CRAs, the Nyss took out a few immortals and another Nihilator. Practically giddy with anticipation, I gleefully announced that I was using Alexia's "Dominate Undead" ability, when my opponent informed me that Immortals are Constructs, not Undead. Sigh, I had been looking forwards to trying out some of her other tricks. I boosted a handcannon shot instead but missed.

The Spriggan aimed and fired his grenades at a pair of immortals. I boosted the first attack roll and rolled three sixes; the boosted damage roll killed the target. The second attack missed, but only deviated an inch so I still rolled the POW 5 blast. I needed a fifteen to break the Immortal's ARM of nineteen... AND I GOT IT! That's right, the Spriggan killed an ARM 19 model with blast damage! MADNESS!

Finally I moved Butcher up and killed another Immortal, running the Wardog around to keep close. I figured that at best he could get two or three Immortals into Butcher, but at DEF 16 ARM 20 I wasn't too worried.

Turns out I had moved Butcher into Xersis charge range. The Krea tried to paralyse Butcher but missed. A Drake landed a boosted spray on him and rolled an impressive 16 to take off 8 boxes. Xersis then feated and charged in, boosting the attack roll and doing exactly 12 damage with his first hit, dropping the big man.

The game had been going so well for me until I got greedy and walked Butcher to his death! Not only did he not have the right tools for dealing with Iron Fleshed Nyss, my dice were hot the whole game too. For what it's worth my opponent had good dice too... the few times he got to use them.

By the end of it I had a dead Thrall and four dead Risen (well, technically they're all dead, but...), of whom I had killed two myself. The rest of my army was untouched, not counting Butcher himself of course. My opponent had lost half of each unit, and without a good way of taking out the Nyss was most likely going to struggle to stop me from winning the attrition war. Having said that it's possibly he may have been able to take out the Nyss holding the zone and then jam me out, winning on scenario.

I think my opponent deployed his unit so as to deal with melee threats, but because I was keeping my distance and trying to take out his front ranks with shooting and delay his reaching me, it didn't work out too well for him. I think he might have been able to get his models into mine earlier if he had put his put his faster models in front and run them forwards as quickly as possible. I don't know if that would have made a big difference though.

The whole game I was pretty much at a loss for where to put most of my models; the Nyss were the easiest, but since everything else was just standing back and waiting I couldn't decide where they needed to be. The big jam in the middle also proved to be a problem once or twice, with the Wardog for example needing to run in a huge loop just to move a couple of inches forward. I definitely need more practice.

I also had trouble visually distinguishing between models in the sea of white primer; at least once I picked up an Eliminator thinking it was a Risen. My opponent must have better eyesight than me since he spotted my mistake from across the table.

I considered trying to play for scenario but didn't know how I was going to be able to do that with one effective unit and a pair of slow warjaxes facing infantry that could go up to P+S 16 with extra damage dice, except by thinning his ranks with shooting first. Consequently I completely ignored the flags and objectives. Perhaps I could have jammed him away from one flag and dominated it with Butcher, but without thinking it through too deeply it just feels like that would have left me vulnerable and I wouldn't have been able to also protect both the zone and the other flag.

While I think that this list seems to be working well against Skorne, I believe I might enjoy eSorscha more. She has the Iron Flesh for the Nyss, her feat will do pretty much the same job as the Butchers, with Boundless Charge I can be more agressive with my warjaxes and I'm not reliant on the Kodiak, and she has the mobility that I enjoy in a caster. Plus I'm less likely to be stupid and leave her forwards to get killed, especially since she has a much better ranged game. Of course I would lose the whole "whatever else happens I can still kill anything with the Butcher" deal that Orsus brings, so while I expect the list to be more fun with her, I'm not sure it would actually be more powerful.

*Excerpt from "The Winter Guard Infantryman's Primer" by Gervaldt Irusk:

"Warjaxe (noun): A Khadoran term for a large steam-powered axe used mainly by Warcasters, that walks to battle on it's own legs and crushes the enemies of the Motherland, often with smaller axes held in it's mechanical hands.
Warjaxes (noun): plural of warjaxe."