Monday, August 31, 2015

Guildball Review

Last Wednesday I posted a look at the Guild Ball teams and models I have painted up so far. Guild Ball was a kickstarter that I backed in early 2014 which delivered early this year. I was originally uninterested in the game due to the "sports ball" aspect, although I thought the models they showed during the campaign were very nice. I was enticed to give the game a second look by a friend from my Malifaux days, who pointed out that there were key elements of the types of mini-games I enjoy incorporated into Guild Ball. I ended up watching an early game play video and was hooked. This was certainly not the typical "sports ball" game.

What is Guild Ball?

Guild Ball is a small scale, skirmish style, table top miniatures game based on medieval mob football. For any who have not read the wikipedia article on medieval mob football, it's well worth the read! Go read it, then come back and finish this blog post.

Guild Ball players field a team of 6 players onto a 3'x3' "pitch", with the pitch allowing for as little to as much terrain as the players prefer. There is a ball, a kick-off, and actions in the game such as "tackles" (European tackles where a player takes the ball, not American tackles where the opponent is clobbered) and "shots" that directly relate to a football (soccer) game. There are also damaging attacks, knockdowns, pushes and dodges, and more esoteric (Noxious Blast) abilities that relate directly to a combat oriented miniatures war game. Players proceed through alternating model activations to accumulate victory points both by scoring goals and taking out opposing players in order to win the game.
  • Game: Guild Ball
  • Company: Steamforged Games
  • Website:
  • Players: 2
  • Play time: typically 60 - 90 minutes

Who are the teams? 

 Guild Ball launched it's first season with eight teams immediately available. This is a fairly impressive feat for a new company, especially considering that most of the teams consisted of 7 different players. This allowed for a game launch that included 58 models. Guild Ball is already preparing for season two where they will release a ninth team (the Hunters Guild) and additional models for each of the existing 8 guilds. Here's a quick overview of the current (Season 1) guilds in the game:


The Alchemists are the one of most "magical" of the teams in the game. They focus on creating effects to both buff their own team and debuff the enemy models. They also have the most abilities (and gain the most benefits from) creating cloud effects that stay on the board or blast effects which can impact multiple targets. Alchemists have the abilities to score victory points by taking out opposing models but they are stronger at scoring goals as a path to victory. Alchemists have 6 team models to choose from and 5 Union models that will play for the team.  


The Brewers are a team I expect will be fairly popular among Guild Ball players, simply due to the overall aesthetic of their models. The Brewers models bring a Scottish Drunkard look with them, with most of the models wearing some type of kilt and carrying, handling, or throwing some type of keg or bottle. Their play style relies fairly heavily on knocking down the opposing models then pushing them around or doing extra damage to them. Although their primary path to victory tends to encourage beating up and taking out the opponent, they do have one of the best strikers (models who are good at scoring goals) in the game. Brewers launched with 7 team players plus 5 Union players who will play for the team.   


The Butchers are one of the "Poster" teams for Guild Ball,  being one of the first two teams that were intended to launch the game, along with one of the teams included in the quick start rules, and one of the teams that's recommended to demo the game with. Butchers have a very direct play style that focuses on doing damage to the opponent and taking out their models. Although Butchers have a very good striker on their team, she acts as more of a "gotcha" model than an actual striker due to the fact she does not get much support from the rest of the team. Overall the Butchers are the most efficient killers in the game, able to quickly close on the opponent players and deal a lot of damage to their targets. The Butchers launched with 7 team players and 5 Union players who will play for the team.


The Engineers are a team which was created as a "character builder" team during the kickstarter (as I understand). This means that the initial models on the team were all created in response and with some input from a kickstarter backer who backed the project at a very high level of support. The Engineers are very "medieval robotic" with a wooden automaton, a wooden robot mascot, and a complete mechanical spider cyborg on the team. In a typical steampunk or futuristic game these models would all look great but be somewhat "normal" looking in context. Guild Ball caters to its time period style by changing all the robotic portions from metal to wood, providing a very unique and rustic look to the models. The Engineers have the bulk of the ranged abilities in the game, providing a unique play style among the teams. They use that range to both deal damage to opponents and knock down players on the field. The heavy use of "character plays" approaches the game differently from other teams, providing an interesting challenge to the other guild ball teams. The Engineers launched with 6 team players and 4 Union players who will play for the team.


The Fishermen are the other "poster" team for Guild Ball, most often being depicted as facing off with the Butchers. They also have a very direct play style, arguably the most efficient scoring team in the game. The Fishermen focus on movement and scoring goals, with a highly reduced ability to damage and take out opposing players. This creates an interesting learning curve for new players, as often the Fishermen are "attacking" opposing models in order to gain more movement (dodging and pushing the opponent around) instead of to do damage. Once a player wraps their thoughts around the "attack to move" process, the Fishermen really come into their own. The Fishermen have some of the best scoring players in the game, including both their striker and the entire mid-field of the team having very good abilities that contribute to scoring. The Fishermen launched with 7 team players and 5 Union players who will play for the team.


The Masons are the team I picked to start playing with. I chose them for the very simple reason that they looked to be the easiest to paint to a table top standard of all the teams. The Masons are a team which has a fairly direct play style, not directly focusing on one specialty but being able to combine different plays to meet either of the two primary scoring methods. This means that Masons can use their abilities directed one way to become a threatening scoring team when that play style best suits them. They can quickly shift to another set of abilities to become a damage dealing team able to take out opposing models with a fair efficiency to gain victory points that way. In both cases they will not be the "best" or most efficient team to play to these styles but what they give up in efficiency they gain in flexibility, being able to switch play styles mid-game. The Masons epitomize "the whole is greater than the sum of the parts". Masons launched with 7 team players and 5 Union players who will play for the team.


Morticians are accepted to be the most complicated teams in the game to play. Morticians are have abilities that are focused on manipulating, controlling, and generally messing with the opponent via their abilities. While there is nothing to stop the Mortician players who taking out opponents or scoring goals, their focus is different from both of those. Morticians have abilities that allow them to control the opposing players, move opposing players around the field, increase the cost of opposing playing abilities,  and potentially remove an opposing player from the game completely. I have not yet painted up my Morticians, although it is a team which I got from the kickstarter. I've liked the "sneaky" and "control style" forces in other games so I am expecting to really enjoy the Morticians once I paint them up and start playing them. Morticians launched with 7 players and 5 Union players who will play for the team.


The Union is unique among the Guild Ball teams in a number of ways. They received the most models at launch, are truly a collection of individuals, and have players who will play for other teams. Union players fill in the "mercenary" component that many modern skirmish games utilize to provide additional options to their primary forces in their games. Along with fleshing out options for the other teams, the Union can field its own team with captain and mascot which is equally competitive and balanced to the other teams. Overall the union can play to both a damage dealing and a goal scoring play style, achieving victory both ways. The Union differs from other teams as they do this by fielding specialized players who do not necessarily benefit from the other team players in the same way other teams work together. Union is similar to Masons in being able to switch play styles mid-game, but they achieve this in a very different way than the Masons do. Union launched with 11 team players.

How's it play?

Guild Ball plays primarily like a skirmish game, with the primary objective of the game to move a ball token to the opposite side of the field and put it on a goal marker. There is plenty of combat available within the game, providing satisfaction to any "war gaming" player who likes skirmish games. The use of specific "character plays" and the individual "character traits" on the models provide a level of complexity that will appeal to Malifaux and Warmachine/Hordes players.

Although Guild Ball has removed itself from the typical "sports ball game" grid in favor of the open table of a skirmish game, it still delivers a strong "sports ball game" flavor. Actions such as Tackle (taking the ball from an opponent), Knockdown (knocking opponents prone), pushes and dodges (moving the active model or the target model), kicking (passing the ball to another model or the open field) and the goal shot (kicking the ball into the goal) really bring out a strong sports feel for the game. The greater emphasis on goals providing more victory points than taking out an opposing model also encourage a "sports game" approach to the game. The combination of this focus and the ability to return "taken out" players to the game in later turns removes the killing aspect that's typically a primary focus for tabletop miniature games.

Guild Ball establishes itself as a modern skirmish game through the use of an action point system that enabled each team a limited resource to perform actions. Guild Ball adds another limited resource called momentum which can be earned through the turn and provides additional benefits to the models.

What's innovative or different?

Guild Ball differentiates itself from other tabletop miniature skirmish and sports games in a couple ways. The Guild Ball creators have spent a fair bit of time trying to explain why their dice pool system is different, but the real difference is how the dice pool is used with the Playbook each character model has.  The playbook provides a number of optional actions a model can perform based on the number of successes that model generates during an attack. These options range from damage, to moving the model or opposing model, to taking the ball, to performing a specific special action individual to that character. Layered into the playbook are select actions which provide an additional resource called momentum, a critical resource in the game. This layering of momentum onto only specific actions creates key decision points for the player and encourages thematic play styles for each team without forcing a player to play their team in a specific.

The Guild Ball creators have gone to great lengths in the design of the game to adhere to a philosophy of choice in the game. This means there is not really any aspect where a model cannot do something, they typically can perform an action but are not optimal at doing it or the action is not as efficient.  They have done a great job of creating a game where "everything is permissible, but everything is not always a good choice". Although I enjoy playing control style forces in skirmish game, this concept of not having a "hard stop" or "hard counter" to actions is very enjoyable and they have accomplished their goal so far.

The combination of focusing on characters for each player and using medieval guilds as the background forces opens up a lot of future design space for the game. All the models in the game represent specific personalities in the players, each model being a singular character in the game. This means there are no generic "troopers" on the field, each player gets their own specific abilities, traits, and play style. The backdrop of Guilds allows for a wide canvas of choices to add new teams to the game while also providing a fairly deep pool of choices for the players that can be added within each guild. Guild Ball took an additional step around this design space by not including point costs for players in the game. Each team is fielded with 1 Captain, 1 Mascot, and 4 other players. This means that all players need to be balanced against each other while providing different styles of play. To date the developers have performed superbly in not creating a conflict where one player is clearly a better choice or an upgrade to another, forcing players to choose abilities and play styles on a character by character basis. When choosing a specific player for a team you often need to weigh what abilities that player brings to the field against what abilities your losing by not bringing an alternate player on the team.

Overall quality of the game

Evaluating the overall quality of the game takes on two views when looking at a tabletop miniature game. There is the quality of the rules and game play, then the quality of the miniatures themselves.

The miniatures for this game are simply beautiful. I felt that the original metal models that Wyrd produced were some of the best models in my experience. The Guild Ball models equal and in many cases surpass the quality of those original metal models from Wyrd. The models look fantastic and assemble and prime nicely. Painting these models goes to a different level which bears specific comment. The Guild Ball creators come from a modeling and painting background and their experience comes through strongly with how these models look when painted.  The creators have worked with the digital sculptors to provide a combination of different textures, layers, and flow to the models that achieves a result I have not seen in other miniatures. The Guild Ball models consistently look good with both a fairly amateur "table top" quality paint job (consisting of base, wash, highlight, dry-brush) and a professional quality paint job utilizing multiple layers and high level techniques. These are the first model I've seen achieve this effect, and they deliver on it incredibly well.

The game itself is fantastic. It is very well put together from a rules standpoint and only has some small factors that indicate it's from a first time game developer. There are only a couple of specific rules I find to be "gamey", by which I mean they are not naturally intuitive and as such may appear to be exploitative when used. Overall this is an excellent game with solid quality rules and excellent model and game balance.

Recommendation and thoughts

After reading this far it should be no surprise that I strongly recommend this game. I was originally adverse due to the "sports ball" nature of the game, and I have subsequently found that not to be an issue. The complexity of the abilities combined with the 6 model skirmish nature of the game is really compelling for me. The game balance, distinct team play styles, and model look all make this a top game in my opinion. Concluding the kickstarter with 5 teams in my possession further demonstrates my recommendation for the game.

I have really enjoyed playing Guild Ball and it is one of my primary games currently. I am always looking for new opponents and am excited to see the game grow in the US market. This has completely replaced the gap in my gaming created by Malifaux Second edition and I cannot recommend it enough.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Guildball Showcase

Today's post is a bit shorter as I have limited pictures to share. I'll be sharing two team pictures of my current Guild Ball teams which I've been able to paint up. I grabbed some rough pictures during the painting process as I completed each model, sharing them with the Guild Ball forums. I then set up my light tent and spent time getting some pictures of both teams together. Considering the improvement to those light tent pictures over the cell-phone pics, I'll be sharing those.

Guild Ball models are fantastic to paint, with really nice sculpts which take paint and washes very nicely. The people behind Guild Ball have made some excellent choices to how the models are sculpted, adding in multiple textures to paint along with paying close attention to the details on the models.  This is the first time I've come across models that appear to take professional level paint jobs and amateur level paint jobs both resulting in a good looking model. Professional level painting will always look better, but the way these models are sculpted allows less complicated techniques (simple base coat, wash, dry brush) to still look really good.


The Masons were the first team I painted for Guild Ball. I made this decision for a couple reasons, primarily focused on speed of painting and color scheme. I aimed to get them to a solid tabletop quality so I could start playing with painted models. I had originally committed to only paint fully painted for Guild Ball, but ended up compromising in order to get games in early. Despite that compromise, the Masons were the first team painted and I only played a couple games with unpainted mini's.

I chose a metal and blue paint scheme which is similar to the "standard" color scheme from the creators. I felt I could knock out blue cloth fairly easily to compliment some basic steel color's for the metal. I was correct and the skin tones and hair ended up being the most complicated parts of the models to paint, which also went very easily. Overall I'm happy with how they came out, although if I was painting them later in the cycle I would put some more detail and layers on each part of the models.


The Union are both the mercenary team in Guild Ball, able to play for other teams, along with a team of their own. There appears to be two schools of thought for the Union, one using schemes on each model based on the alternate teams they play for and the other going with a unified Union paint scheme. I decided I wanted to go with a unified scheme and decided to use purple and red as my primary and highlight colors, purple due to the established team color and red because it compliments purple and is a color I enjoy painting.

I was initially stumped in how I wanted to paint the models, starting with the Union captain Blackheart. I spent time looking the model over and trying to picture how it would look with a number of colors on it. I ended up becoming very frustrated and decided to use a black base coat then start building up my purple, red, skin, and metal accents and see how he looked. My ultimate intention was to add a new base color over the black once I had a look at how the color scheme showed up on the model. After getting that done I realized that black looked really good as the base color for the union, keeping the others as highlights. This made working on the rest of the models much easier, establishing a solid and fairly intimidating paint scheme overall. I've had the chance to try some new schemes on some of the models such as Fangtooth (to the right) which work well with the color scheme. Overall, I'm very happy with how my current set of  Union is coming out. The Union is the largest team overall, leaving me 3 of the 11 players consisting of 5 models to paint.

That's a look at my current assembled and painted Guild Ball teams. Once I complete the rest of the Union I'll be moving onto the rest of my teams. I have the Brewers, Alchemists, and Morticians left to paint, of which I'm looking forward to getting them all painted. I'm considering having a friend commission paint the Alchemists, as he is an amazing painter and I think the Alchmists will really shine when he is done.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Energised about return to painting

Frankly I've been torn on if this post is a painting post or a ramble post. I've tagged it as both, but will leave the paint brushes as the lead-in picture. Although a bit shorter, I will be touching on some of my painting experience that might help out others.

Along with my blogging dropping down to very little over the past several months I also lost motivation for painting and modeling. On receipt of my Wrath of Kings models I assembled and primed them, but could not get the excitement to paint high enough to sit down and work on them. Similarly I had to really push myself to assemble and paint my first Guild Ball team. This is not due to the models themselves, both games have excellent models. It was completely due to lacking motivation to sit down and paint.

I found this to be very frustrating overall and spent a fair bit of time thinking about it. Unfortunately my pondering the predicament of painting did not help with the motivation I needed. I really pushed myself to sit down and paint up my Guild Ball Masons team to a point where I was not overly embarrassed to put them on the table. Harmony (to the right) is an excellent example of where I was at. While she is at an acceptable level to reach a table-top painting standard I'm comfortable with, she is lacking details I have since put onto other models. Comparing her to the models I have painted since getting excited to return to painting shows a fair difference in overall quality.

I noticed something else about my painting. I noticed this as I was painting up some of my initial Aetherium models and found it carried over to the other models I painted. Painting my models was taking a lot longer than I anticipated based on my previous painting experience. I am not a fast painter and as such a "typical" man sized model (28mm - 32mm) takes me approximately 90 minutes to complete when starting from primer. I found that during my slump the models I did push myself to paint were taking 2 - 3 hours to complete. I can't point to exactly where I was moving slower, I just realized that when I would finish a model that much time had passed. This only added to my frustration and lack of motivation, especially when they did not look as good.

I wish I had some secret sauce or sage advice I can offer to others in the same situation I was in. I have found myself reenergized and excited again to sit down and work on painting up models. I can't say exactly when it happened, but I do remember some of what I was doing when I found myself "back in the groove". This may or may not work for others, but hopefully it helps.

I have an upcoming article talking in depth about painting Chibi models, it should post over the next couple weeks. One day I decided that I would drag my Super Dungeon Explore models down to my painting table and work on them. I had never painted up Chibi style models and was very nervous about not being able to paint in a new style. I've spent the entire duration I've been painting for the hobby focusing on a non-cartoon style that works for mini-wargaming. I was not involved in the hobby during the early GW days when all the bases were goblin green and all the models were painted in clean cartoon lines with extreme highlighting and black border lines. I got involved in this hobby and learned my painting techniques with an eye toward achieving a "semi-realistic" style to my models. Lots of washes and shadow-midtone-highlight blending to get a "natural" look to the models. Chibi style models were all extreme highlights, clean lines, smooth and bright colors, and very cartoonish.

I started with what I knew about painting and picked the models that I felt would come closest to my "normal" painting style while giving me an oppurtunity to try out some new techniques. I have spent a lot of my painting time working on fire through my wargaming tenure, and picking out the SDE fire monsters was the best place to start. I painted them up exactly as I would have painted a non-chibi mini, then looked at some other painters online pictures for reference. Starting with that base I went back over the model and cleaned up areas I typically left blended, hardening the transitions and lines on the model. I then added in some very extreme transitions and let the model dry. Although I was uncomfortable to start, I quickly found that the result was exactly what I was looking for. I then convinced my wife to play a game with me, pulling out my newly painted monsters for us to face off against. During that game my wife really enjoyed the way the monsters looked, and I also became excited to see them on the table. They were certainly not professionally painted, but they looked pretty good overall.

Starting at this point I began to prime other SDE models, moving into the heroes and adding in more monsters as I went. I found that the Chibi style was not as tough to achieve as I thought, and I was starting to become very excited to keep painting. Along with the SDE models, I became motivated to paint other models using my "normal" technique. Switching back and forth between models, both between painting sessions and during the same session, I started to see progress across my whole collection. I also began to pick back up on my painting speed and my overall technique. In only a couple weeks I have found myself reenergized to keep painting and move forward with that side of the hobby.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Aetherium Model Showcase

In a couple of the recent posts I mentioned both the new game Aetherium and my enjoyment returning to painting including the models for this game. Aetherium has two factions with models to assemble and paint, which I have nearly completed all of. The models are broken down into three different types of units, Avatar's, Functions, and Subroutines. Functions are further separated between "regular" functions and "omni" functions, with the omni's being much larger models.

I have collected nearly all the models available at launch for the game, choosing to not pick up the Axiom Slavhacs, Nanomei Rabble, and the Defector Militia. All of the remaining models fill in the available slots in the battlefoam which I bought for the inside of the Aetherium box. This point's to not picking up those remaining subroutines as I won't have room to hold them safely in my foam.

My wife has commented several times over the years that she likes the glossy look of my models with the clear-coat sealer on them. I typically seal my models with a generous amount of clear-cost and once that's dry spray them down again with a dull-coat sealer to bring the model back to a non-glossy state. I do this to provide some protection for handling the models while playing. During the sealing process for Aetherium I decided to leave them glossy based on my wife's feedback. It's a bit different from the typical table top look of my painting, and I admit I'm still getting used to the look. It's not bad per se, but it's different enough from my typical routine that they look a little off to me.


I decided to use a fairly straight forward paint scheme for my Axiom, taking inspiration and the majority of the scheme directly from the Aetherium rulebook and art book. This scheme uses whites for the leaders, accenting the models with black and orange. The bulk of the remaining models in the faction use a heavy black and orange color scheme. There are a few key models that I chose to use white as the predominant color instead of an accent, as they worked well in the overall aesthetic. Overall the Axiom have been a joy to paint, partly due to the simple color scheme creating an eye catching coherent look for the faction while maintaining a fitting air of intimidation.


Here we take a closer look at the three Axiom avatars. Avatars fill the role of faction leader in a game of Aetherium, allowing on a single avatar when you assemble your collective. The three Axiom avatars (in order) are Pontifex Neuholm, Commandant Spyder, and Lady Mastrona. I'm happy with the way they came out, aiming for a less stark white on the Commandant as he is an Avatar but also has ties to the military side of the Axiom. The Lady and Pontifex are both rooted in the religious side of the faction, guiding the choice for a starker white on their clothes.


Functions are solo-activating programs in the game, providing an individual activation that tends to be more powerful than a subroutine but not to the level of the Avatars.  Here we take a closer look at the Axiom Subroutines, not including the Ombi. After painting up the models I realized it may have been better to use a white robe for the Adept (second in) as he is on the religious side of the faction. Despite that I find his black robed look to have come out very nicely. I have a second adept model so may try the white color scheme in the future. Here we see (in order) the Grenadier, Adapt, Agent, and Long Shot. The Long Short model is the Kickstarter exclusive model which I really like.

Also in the Function group we have the Pacifier Omni program. Omni's are larger models which take up 4x the space of a regular model. They tend to be on par with the power of an avatar, and are limited to one per collective.  I kept with the Axiom military scheme of black with orange accents, a color scheme that works particularly well on this model.


Subroutines are the units in the game, consisting of 2, 3, and 5 models. I think the Axiom scheme comes across as particularly intimidating with the subroutines, as they are primarily military models. Here we see the Praetorians (bottom center), Triumvirate (top left), Alpha & Omega (top center), and the Venari (Top right). Although I like the look of all the models I am particularly fond of the Triumvirate and Venari.


I had a tougher time making decisions on a paint scheme for the Nanomei. I ended up using fairly direct color choices and schemes from the Aetherium art book for the models. In the end I am happy with the scheme, realizing it ended up making strong use of red throughout the scheme. Even my purples are shaded more to the red than blue. Overall this is fitting for a game faction that represents anarchists.


I only had two of the Nanomei avatars painted at the time of this blog posting. I still have the third (the puppeteer) on my paint tray waiting for some color. The two avatars we do have (in order) are the White Rabbit and the Mask. Both of these were a lot of fun to paint and came together well. After completing them the only part I am unhappy with is the White Rabbit's mask, which I would do differently in the future.


The Nanomei functions are a mixed bag to paint overall. There is a wide variety styles across the models which are constrained in only a couple different textures (cloth and skin). The four functions we see here (in order) are Tov, Tinder, Hacktivist, and CyberBomber.

In line with the Axiom, the Nanomei also have an Omni Function they can put in play. The Nanomei Omni is the Goliath, a massive brute of a program who moves around the board to beat down the opposition. Goliath was a lot of fun to paint, with large slabs of skim textured with a lot of muscle. This sculpt took paint and washes nicely, allowing from some decent depth on the model without requiring a lot of advanced technique.  It was also nice to see 4 different head options to choose from.


I ended up with a challenge in regards to the Nanomei subroutines as two of the three are 5 model units. This made spacing them for the pictures a bit tougher, especially for the faction picture (at the top of this section). Here we see the Riot Girlz on the top center, with the Rioters bottom left and Pyromanatics bottom right. The Pyro's were the most fun to paint of this lot, having a ton of character and one dude who's simply on fire.

There you have it, my painted Aetherium set (minus 1 model).

Monday, August 17, 2015

Aetherium Review

I had the privilege of playing a demo of a very cool game during Adepticon 2013. That demo pushed me to make the choice to back the game on kickstarter that same day, leading to the game showing up on my step about a year later. That game was Aetherium, which has garnered reviews on the Gamers Lounge and a very high rating from me on BGG. I have shown it to all my local gaming friends and they all have very favorable remarks in relation to the game, leading to a few picking it from the website.

Aetherium is set in a future world approximately 250 years from today (set in 2247). Scientists have discovered a way to access a virtual reality which has mostly replaced other venues for trade, entertainment, and even governing and work. Most people flee the dystopian future "real world" for the virtual world which is more "real" than the non-virtual. It's a place that is no place. It's the Aetherium.

The background of this game grabs ideas from several tropes endeared to many similar in age and interests to me. Tron, Ready Player 1, the Matrix, and aspects of Inception all flavor this game world. There are also incredibly strong cyberpunk aspects that could have been inspired from Shadowrun or Cyberpunk the role playing games. This game doesn't just rest on nostalgia but also delivers an incredibly solid game system to play within. It combines miniatures and board game elements with that solid ruleset to grab and pull you into it's world.

The Basics

Aetherium is a miniature board game which combined aspects of table-top miniature wargaming with feature and constraints of a traditional board game. Two players each use their forces, named Collectives, to achieve objectives on a game board. Collectives are constructed by selecting specific 3 to 5 programs which are represented by 28mm models. The models are provided unpainted and need to be assembled and painted for best results.

How's it play? (shortly)

Aetherium is setup with a dual layer playing board to represent the virtual space in the A.E.T.H.E.R that the two collectives will be struggling over. The base layer of the board is a 30x30 inch grid board made of the same material used for mouse pads. This mat represents the Quantum Noise, the background environment of the Aetherium which is dangerous for programs to enter. On this mat are set a number of tiles representing the "safe" environments within the quantum noise. These smaller tiles (called schema) are 5x5, 7x7, and 9x9 grids which are setup by the players at the beginning of the game. This initial set-up is part of the game strategy, but is not a fixed location for the schema. There is a mechanic during the game where each player can move schema around the quantum noise mat to gain advantages.

Following the schema setup each player will deploy any Nodes or Pylons required for the mission being played. Nodes are naturally occurring "anchors" which each faction is trying to gain control of. Pylons are faction specific man-made anchors, less powerful than Nodes but still point's of control for each faction to try to take.  Players then deploy the programs in their collectives and begin to play the game. Play proceeds with each player working their way through their PAD (Program Activation Deck), a deck of cards which determines the order each players programs activate. Once the PAD is exhausted a player will be able to reset their PAD, selecting the new order of program activation for the next turn.

Programs will use a limited resource known as CS to take actions including moving around the board, utilizing special abilities, or gaining control of a pylon or node. The schema have terrain on them, indicated by icons on the boards, which will block line of sight, provide cover, and hamper movement across certain spaces. Each program will also have the ability to attack for "free" as part of their activation.

There is one other aspect of the game and resources which players need to keep track of. This is the RAM resource, which affects the game in a number of ways. First, RAM can be used to "overpower" a program, converting RAM into CS for additional actions up to a programs OC value. RAM can also be used to shift and rotate schema during a programs activation. This aspect fully incorporates the game board into the game in a way that's makes it a key component of each players strategy and tactics. 

 Who are the forces?

Aetherium represents the conflicts that arise in a future digital realm known as the A.E.T.H.E.R between multiple factions who are accessing and in some cases trying to control that realm. At game launch (2015) there are two factions available for players to use. Nearly half of these factions are available in the 2-player starter set, with the additional programs available for sale on the Anvil-8 web store. Listeners to Gamers Lounge episode 108, episode 97, and Gamers Lounge Interview - Aetherium have heard some of the future factions planned. At this time the Nanomei and Axiom are available, with the Ikaru being officially unveiled at Gencon 2015.


The Axiom fill roles as both the government and the state religion in the world of Aetherium. The Axiom emerged from the chaos of the trade wars and has established order where the average citizen of the real world and the Aetherium has the freedom to obey. Although the Axiom would prefer to establish and maintain order via compliance and strong propaganda, they are not afraid to enforce that order via force.

These tenants find their way into the game play of the programs in the faction very cleanly. The Axiom has very efficient programs, utilizing an average amount of CS (action points) with very small OC (Over clock) values. The majority of their programs focus on absorbing damage and manipulating enemy programs on the board by pushing them around and relocating them on the board. The Axiom has key programs in the faction which can combine abilities to apply some terrific damage capabilities within the game.


The Nanomei are a faction of anarchists who rebel against the tight-fisted rule of the corporations who are trying to establish control of the Aetherium. The Nanomei bring their abilities into the virtual world and wage a constant battle against the forces that wish to control mankind and remove the choices for freedom. Nanomei programs exemplify this in a game play style focused on damage. Nanomei also has a lot of abilities which allow the use of fire both as a "burnout" affect on enemy models and by creating virtual "firewall" terrain on the board. Nanaomei programs tend to have moderate CS values but higher OC values, leading to a less efficient program overall, with abilities to burst their effectiveness.
What's innovative or different? What's fun?

Overall quality of the game

Aetherium is Anvil-8's first game, and this is not evident anywhere in the game. The quality of the boards, mat, rulebook, and box is equal to any other game currently produced by a major board game company in the market today. The rules are incredibly clean with very few questions after reading the rulebook and playing the game. The very limited rules questions that may come up are addressed in a 1 page FAQ on the Anvil-8 website. I was shocked by the quality of the rules for a first time production.

The models used in this game are better than the "expected" board game quality miniatures. They rival table-top wargaming models, achieving a mid-field mini quality overall. The models are cast in resin and will require some basic modeling skills to assemble. This is likely to be a turn-off to "pure" board gamers, but should provide no challenge for anyone who also plays mini-games. The only complaint I have on the models is the amount of mold release which needs to be scrubbed off in order for the glue and paint to adhere to the model. Furthermore, the game benefits tremendously from painted models over plain grey resin.

Game Innovation and Draw

Aetherium has some fantastic portions of the overall game design that really pull together for a highly enjoyable game. The interaction between unit action points (CS), unit abilities, and the ability to add action points via the RAM/OC aspect provides multiple axis of resource management without becoming too complicated. The console board provided for each player makes tracking resources and choosing how to utilize those resource very straight forward.

The Program Activation Deck allowing for a fixed order of unit activation each turn while adding in the aspect of reordering that activation between turns is very cool. This adds in an aspect of anticipation and bluffing with your opponent, where each player is trying to determine the order of their opponents program activation in the hopes of getting a "jump" on key units.

These two aspects combine with the models and units of the game to create a very dynamic and exciting play experience. This is further enhanced by the most innovative portion of the game, which is the schema manipulation. The ability to use RAM to shift and rotate the actual game board is one of the most exciting and tactical portions of this game. There is potential for the board at the end of the game to look completely different to how it looked at game start. This aspect adds a whole new dimension of tactical thought into how you approach facing off with your opponent. There is a whole new depth of tactics based on what Schema you control versus your opponent versus which are neutral and can be manipulated by both players. This also adds additional importance to managing your RAM resource, both to advance your own strategy and to counter your opponents shifting of schema.

Recommendation and thoughts

If it is not clear at this point of the review I will be very direct with my thoughts. I love this game and rate it very highly among my chosen games. Aetherium has quickly become one of my favorite games in my collection, and I consider it one of my prime games to play. Aetherium is one of the best tactical mini games on the market, in addition to being a great gateway for traditional board gamers.

The one weakness I see in the game is the current lack of distribution. Anvil-8 is a new game company and this is their first game, creating tough barriers to distributors picking up their game. This limits the exposure Aetherium needs to truly build the following it 's quality deserves.

Overall, I highly recommend this game. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

What am I playing Part 2: Miniature Board Games and Miniature Games

Yesterday we spent some time reviewing the game play history in relation to this blog progressing to some of what I have been playing recently. I talked about the board games I had been playing most, at least those that were "typical" board games. I also touched on at least one card game (Xenoshyft) which I've been playing around with. I didn't mention it partly because I don't own it, but I did spend a fair bit of time playing Sentinels of the Multiverse with my local gaming group.

Continuing in the thread of what I have been playing lately we move into miniature board games. I recently discussed a topic related to this on Gamers Lounge Ep. 107 - Boards and Miniatures. There is a subset of games recently gaining popularity which combine tabletop war gaming quality miniatures with the components of a traditional board game to deliver a hybrid experience. One of the first times I ran into this style of game was with Wyrd Miniatures Puppetwars and Soda Pop Miniatures Super Dungeon Explore. At the time I found the hybrid style game to be unique, interesting, and a little odd.  Over the past couple years these types of games have really come into their own and I find a significant portion of my recent gaming time is spent on these games. Five specific games rise to the forefront when looking at what I've been playing:


Created by Guillotine games and produced by Cool Mini or Not, Zombicide has swept the board gaming scene. Starting with a highly successful kickstarter three years ago, Zombicide has since turned out 2 additional kickstarters for producing expansions for the original game and a third kickstarter to launch a new fantasy version of the game. Zombicide is a favorite game in my house, with my wife and daughters regularly clamoring to play. It's become a go-to family game for us.

Super Dungeon Explore

Super Dungeon Explore (SDE) has been around for several years, but recently received an update to allow for both cooperative and 1 vs party play. Originally SDE was set up with a single player filling the role of Console, with the responsibility to playing the monsters in the dungeon and killing off the intrepid party of heroes. The other players (1-5 other players) took on the roles of heroes in a dungeon delving party and were trying to defeat the dungeon Boss. SDE was recently (January 2015) updated to a second edition, which include the Classic version of the game (with cleaned up rules) along with a cooperative version of the game known as Arcade style. This cooperative version raised interest for the game in my family and has opened opportunities for us to play together against the board. Added in the cute Chibi style models and my family is becoming fond of the game. I'll have a review of the Arcade version coming in the near future.


Aetherium is one of the best games I've played in years, across all genres of games I play. It is incredibly well built, has very clear rules, and does a fantastic job of combining both the tactical and strategic portions of a miniature war game with the ease of play and rules from a board game. This game is simply amazing, with the one drawback of being created and produced by a small game company (funded via kickstater) lacking in distribution. I am looking forward to the day this game gains wider distribution and more people begin to discover it.

Star Wars X-Wing

Fantasy Flight Games was traditionally known for creating and producing card games and board games. They decided to dip their toes into miniature gaming with a couple games, one of which was X-Wing. This is a dog-fighting ship combat game based in the Star Wars universe and incorporating all the excitement of the small ship battles from the movies. My daughter is becoming a big Star Wars fan, and upon learning there was a game where she could pilot an X-Wing or the Millennium Falcon, she had to have it. I primarily get games of X-Wing in with my daughter, and she regularly beats me at the game.

Star Wars Armada

Following the success (smashing success) of X-Wing, Fantasy Flight games expanded their footprint within the Star Wars galaxy by releasing Armada. This takes the ship battles of X-Wing and escalates them to Capital Ship size. They reduce the interaction of "pant on fire" dog-fighting and built an excellent fleet style engagement game. Armada incorporates a command system which really gives you the experience of needing to plan out the moves of massive battleships clashing across a stellar battlefield. I've only gotten a couple games in with my daughter and one of my gaming groups, but the game is fantastic and I've been slowly expanding our fleets.

Tabletop Miniature Wargames

Although this post is quickly gaining length I feel we can get through this last section pretty quickly. At heart I am a miniature wargamer and thoroughly enjoy playing tabletop mini wargames. I have an article coming talking about the hobby side of gaming and how I recently became reenergized for painting my models. There are a couple mini games I'm playing and two which are becoming primary games for me.

Wild West Exodus (WWX)

I still have 3 WWX armies packed nicely in my bag and mostly painted. I have my Enlightened army, which was beautifully commission painted by Mini's by Zach. I also have kept my Union and Warrior Nation armies which I painted myself. Overall I'm not playing this game much at all anymore, although I'm open to the occasional game here and there. It's certainly not a primary, but the occasional game is fun at a skirmish no-vehicle level.

Warmachine & Hordes (WM/H)

I have a fairly extensive Legion of Everblight army for WM/H and will occasionally pull out the models and play a game. Over the 2+ years I've owned the army I've gotten some of it commission painted and have played maybe 15 games in total. WM/H can be a fun game, but I do not enjoy it enough to jump in at the level that is required for it to be a primary game for me. This can be frustrating as the local WM/H scene is incredibly strong in my area, regularly finding 16+ players on my typical gaming night.

Wrath of Kings (WOK)

WOK is currently filling my Squad/Army scale game niche. I enjoy this game more that WM/H and have 2 armies for it. I've been playing around with both the Goritsi (Vampires and Werewolves) and the Shael Han (Human Monks) in my games. There is a small scene locally which is very slowly growing. This is one of the two primary games I've been playing lately, and we're starting to see a smaller competitive scene building within an hour of where I regularly play.

Guild Ball

Guild Ball is an open field combination of a skirmish and a sports game. I have not previously been excited to play sports games on the market but Guildball's inclusion of an open field and skirmish game mechanics grabbed my interest. A friend and I jointly backed the kickstarter campaign for Guild Ball, with him grabbing 2 of the 8 teams and me grabbing 5 teams. I've been slowly building and painting my teams, grabbing games where I can. The more I play this game the more I enjoy it, and it's quickly becoming my primary mini-wargaming game.

Now your up to date on what I've been playing lately. You can see that although the blog had gone quiet for a while I did not stop gaming. Those game's I've written about in this and the previous post are the bulk of the games which are most popular for me, but only a slice of all the games I've tried. I have been starting to keep track of the games I own on Board Game Geek and should really start tracking my game plays as well. I also have more games coming via Kickstarters I've backed and plan to review those as I receive them and get to play.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

What am I playing Part 1: DTP history and Board Games

The Dead Tau Project blog started out in 2008 as a place I was going to track my Eldar army for Games Workshop's Warhammer 40K. I was primarily playing 40K at the time, with a smidge of Warhammer Fantasy Battles tossed in. I had recently rolled off a long running Dungeons and Dragons role playing game and was shifting my focus to tabletop miniature war games.

I have not looked back since moving into miniature war games, nor returned to role playing. I've had some chances here and there but they have not worked out. Schedules, location, preference for long term campaigns, and dedication to work out a long-running story have stymied the drive to head back to role playing. On the other hand, I have been blessed with a number of very good friends and solid gaming groups in my local area. This contributes to playing miniature war games, board games, and card games in both a competitive and casual setting.

Over time my interests in war gaming broadened and around June of 2010 I started a new adventure. I discovered Malifaux around that time and began seeing a shift in my painting along with my playing. Soon Malifaux became my primary game and I left the GW fold, departing from 40K and WHFB. Over the next 3 years (until July 2013) the Dead Tau Project was very heavily centered on my adventures in Malifaux. I dabbled a little in Warmachine/Hordes, specifically in Hordes playing the Legion of Everblight and their dragons. The game is an excellent game but for a variety of reasons it has not grabbed me as a primary game.

Through the end of 2013 and throughout 2014 the Dead Tau Project has followed my adventures with Wild West Exodus (WWX). WWX was a game which I kickstarted and received a number of armies for. I had the chance to play several games and really dig into the game system overall. I tracked much of this with battle reports posted to the blog and pictures of painted models. Toward the end of 2014 I began posting some limited information about Guild Ball.

That's a short trip through 7 years of the DTP history and the games I was playing up to January 2015. Then everything went quiet over the past 6 months, and now the question is what the hell have I been doing? I have been playing games.

Since my departure from Malifaux I have been on the search for a primary game which I enjoy. Additionally, I'm looking for a game that will pull me in similar to the way I was engrossed in WHFB, 40K, and Malifaux. This has been a tough search and I  feel I am finally getting close to identifying that game.

I have also been playing a load of other games I have discovered through Kickstarter and through expanding my view into board games. On the strict board game front I have picked up a bunch of games that I enjoy with both family and friends.


I learned of this game via Wil Wheatons Table Top and my family and I have fallen in love with it. It's a fairly lightweight board game with a panda who wanders around the board eating bamboo. Each player has some objectives they need to accomplish in order to win the game.

Lords of Waterdeep

My family has not realized this is a game based on Dungeons and Dragons, or they are not admitting it if they have. This is a really fun worker placement game that I had heard about for years and not picked up until recently.  Players play one of the secret lords of Waterdeep and hire adventures to complete quests to achieve victory points. The adventurers are resource cubes and the players each compete through each turn of the game to deploy agents to recruit those resources to their side in order to complete the quests.

Machi Koro

My friend Adam from NH turned me onto this game. This is one where my wife and I played at his house last summer and my wife fell in love with the game. We have since picked up the expansion, although we find we prefer the base game more than the expansion. Really fun card based game that also uses a dice in combination with the cards in an innovative way.


I love this game from Gale Force 9 and grabbed it as soon as it was available after Gencon 2014. I have been so excited to play but the amount of set-up, physical space required, and length of play has killed off any groups who would play with me. It's a game I am looking to get on the table more often so I can justify grabbing more expansions, but find it tough considering I primarily play board games at the local store or with my family.

Xia: Legends of the Drift System

Xia is a fantastic 4x spaceship game that Adam from Nh also introduced me to. This game was on kickstarter and I missed the campaign. Subsequently it sold out of all copies and has already run to a second printing which is anxiously awaited by the board gaming community. I'll have a review of this coming in future posts, stay tuned.


Xenoshyft was a kickstarted card game produced by Cool Mini or Not. This is a cooperative 2-4 player game where your fighting off waves of aliens who are trying to murder you. It's a lot of fun and I'll be reviewing it in an upcoming post.

Those are he bulk of the strict board game's I've been playing. I did get involved in a new gaming group who meets every couple months. That group is fairly heavily invested in historical games, which introduced me to an afternoon session of Republic of Rome. This was a cool political maneuvering game which I enjoyed a lot but am not sure I could get my normal gaming groups to play.

I'll be returning tomorrow with an overview of more games I've been playing over the past 18 months, focusing mostly on the last 6. Tomorrow I'll be going through those games which cross the line between Miniature games and Board games. I'll also move onto the miniature games I am currently playing.