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Sunday, 23 July 2017

Spartan redefines stupid with Firestorm Strike Force and Kickstarter

Well, it's been a very busy month for me of late with work - end of quarter, commercial training for my European Team, PMDs (Performance Management Discussions - those 6-monthly reviews everyone loves) and lots of travel - Copenhagen, Barcelona, Darmstadt.....

It's been busy out of those times too - birthdays, keeping the garden under control, working on the house - all stealing time from hobby (apart from our regular Friday night 5e D&D session). I started several blog posts, but haven't had the time to complete them - until today.

Checking through my emails, there's the (ir)regular Spartan Games newsletter. A while back they announced v3.0 of Firestorm would be funded through Kickstarter. That made me exasperated, because I know some people are still invested enough in the universe to fund it, and I believe they're throwing good money after bad. I read the blog which "explained" some of their reasoning - which turned out to be "Neil wanted v3 of FA" so that's why they're doing it. Stupid reason, but still, I'm divested enough from the game to make some commentary on Facebook and leave it be.

Then today what do I find but an announcement for "Firestorm Strike Force" - a fighter combat board game....WTF?? The  I remembered a couple of conversations I'd had with Neil 18-24 months before where he talked about wanting to do a fighter combat game in the FA universe. I eluded to the fact that that would be difficult with X-Wing dominating the market, and maybe as part of the extended game it could work, but there was still a lot of stuff to do in the FA universe first.

Unbelievable. Trying to cram in a board game in that hugely saturated market, and a board game of fighter combat - which as I already mentioned is pretty solidly blocked out by X-Wing anyway, seems insane. Launching it within an existing franchise is smart, but only if that existing franchise has some market presence, which FA really doesn't. So GW would make this work in 40k (as they did), but even they have rolled aerial combat into their core rule set.

So is it really that unbelievable? Well, I don't think so. Let me go back to the point above about why v3 of FA is coming - because Neil wants it to happen. Why is Strike Force coming? Because Neil wants it to happen. Why did SG restructure the "working pretty well" structure of FA/DW? Because Neil wanted to.

Now all of that is fine - Neil Fawcett is the creative director of SG, after all - it's his company, he can do whatever he likes with it. The problem I have with that is the good people who have genuine faith in his words that will waste good money on these products and get taken down with the good ship "HMS SG Titanic". Spartan Games is clearly in trouble - companies doing well with increasing market share don't suddenly switch from a standard retail model to Kickstarter to fund their core IPs.

That's a big problem for me. I have a team of 16 people reporting to me, and decisions I make often have a direct impact on their lives. Neil has a company with about the same number of people (maybe a few more) who absolutely depend on his decision making abilities for their jobs - and he makes BAD corporate decisions. Creating new games and changing direction and structure because of personal whims is fine when no-one cares or depends on you. Doing it when that is the case is a massive arrogance, and shows an underlying ego which borders on the pathological.

In big companies (or small companies that get big and sustain themselves), these huge egos are often used but tempered - so the role of a Creative Director is balanced by the business manager and the CFO etc - committees and reviews, checks and balances that stop companies slitting their own throats when it comes to their direction. Sometimes they still get it wrong, but the risks are less, and usually have countermeasures in place for the "what if this doesn't work" scenario.

The problem with Spartan is this is not a company that has learned from prior mistakes of this kind - the 15mm DW Kickstarter that never was comes to mind - indicating a directive force that was so out of step with its customer base it was shocking. Now SG are here doing it all over again.

So what does this mean for SG long term? For me, I don't see a Spartan long term. The ego that drove the company to prominence in the early days is now driving the company to more erratic and ever-wilder decisions, and negative feedback is not only ignored, but countered - SG were actually arguing on Facebook with their customers, FFS!!! Neil, who was the initiator of the company because he wanted to make himself nice models, has now donned the grim reaper robes and scythe for exactly the same reason - because he still thinks that SG exists to make nice models that he likes, rather than build excellent games with integrated universes that serve people.

For me this is the problem with SG, and its the difference between management and leadership. Anyone can tell someone what to do when they've authority over them - that's management. Not everyone can tell people their vision and then demonstrate that in a way that makes people want to follow it. Spartan started back in 2009 by leading, now they're just trying to manage. Unfortunately they've no authority over their customers, which is why I can't see them existing in the mid-long term. Hell, even the short term is looking chancy.

Apologies for the long monologue, but I've been involved in business improvement since 2007, and it makes my blood boil when I see companies pressing the self-destruct button, especially when they've good products. I'll post something more positive next time...until then, have a great summer everyone....and don't buy Strike Force or fund Kickstarters for games with player-bases that are dropping like stones.... :-)

Monday, 26 June 2017

Building the 40k Dark Imperium 2-Player Boxed Set

Last time we took a first impressions unboxing look at the Dark Imperium 2-player boxed set for Games Workshop's new edition of Warhammer 40k. This time we will take a more detailed look at how the minis go together from the set. I'll be putting together the Death Guard, whilst Oscar will handle the Emperor's finest.

I started with the Foetid Bloat Drone, because it's the largest and nastiest model in the set! First step was to clip all the parts of the sprues:

After that, it was clean up. Other than removing the spurs from the cutting, this was extremely limited - testament to the crispness of the moulding I attested to in the last post. This can be seen by this weapon - you can see seaming on the part is extremely limited (consider the entire thing is just over 1" long!):

After this, I dry-fitted the main body together and the accuracy of fit is just staggering - with the three components together, the whole thing stays together completely - you can even drop it and it doesn't come apart (though I don't recommend this!). 

The way GW have engineered the components in this kit is absolutely first-class, and really very clever - points I'll return to several times over the course of this post. Here is the rear of the Bloat Drone, unglued:

You can see how the seam follows around components here. minimising where seams need cleaning up. So after the main body was glued together, I added the side pieces that the weapons attach to and fixed it to the base, but left off the fans and weapons to make it easier to paint. Once again, you can dry-fit components and the fit is so good that they remain where they are:

I left these pieces off for the time being, as I figured it would make painting of this model (which is going to be a centrepiece) easier.

So let's switch over to the Primaris marines. with one of the Lieutenants:

These are somewhat simpler than the Death Guard in the box, and as such I haven't covered them as much - they go together smoothly and flawlessly, and are really nice pieces

Positive registration on the pieces for arms and backpacks ensure good location and adhesion, plus stopping you putting the wrong arms in the wrong position. Here he is finished:

So far, so good. Next I tackled the Lord of Contagion. Here are the pieces for him:

Now GW has been very clever with this set - and I mean VERY clever. The precision and thought that has gone into the design and production of these sprues is staggering, something I'll be showing multiple different examples of. Here's the first on the Death Guard, with how the leg assembly (which has already had nurglings added to the foot) fits to the main body/leg section:

Simple, but specific registration, and when complete... sign of the seam at all! Not impressed? Well, this is the least of the examples I'll give. The Lord finishes easily with the back piece and the weapon.arms:

Note the join on the arm. What? Can't/Can hardly see it? Exactly.The join follows the chain and the spike coming through the armour, making it all but invisible. Very clever, GW, very clever.

So back to the "good guys". Here's the Captain:

Quickly builds up:

Here are the leader models of both sides together side-by-side:

I still don't like the smoke on the Lord of Contagion...but worse sins to come on the Death Guard....

I put together the Noxious Blightbringer next - he's not wholly glued here, I just wanted to show him as intended:

I felt (as I mentioned in the podcast - if you've yet to check it out, click "The Hub Systems Podcast" in the link to the right) that the huge bell here looks ridiculous - I wasn't sold on the chained censers either, though at least they're not spewing moulded smoke! I think the bell belongs on a standard, not hanging form a sprouting horn on a marine's back. Time for some modification....

Removing the nurgling, bell and censers declutter the model a lot, especially at the rear.

I might still get rid of the foot bells - I'm reminded of the children's nursery rhyme "Ride a Cock Horse" which has the line "with bells on her fingers and bells on her toes...". As I said, the bells are dumb.

Let's swing back again to the marines, and the remaining Lieutenant:

Fairly standard construction with this guy, and no problems - he joins his comrades:

Going back to the Death Guard, we have the Malignant Plaguecaster. Here I'm going to show another example of GW being clever with joins. Here are the two pieces that come together for the legs and back of the Plaguecaster - see how there's a join down the chainmail loincloth?

Here's the glued model - the join almost invisible because of the way GW have engineered it. This is then further covered up, but this is just a very modeller-friendly construction - cleaning up joins on chainmail is a pig, and here its simply unnecessary.

Next is the hood/arm/staff and how it joins to the head/body. First, look how crisply this fine and intricate one-piece casting is done.

Then look how seamlessly it fits in place on the rest of the model:

The only visible join here will be covered up by the other pendant piece of cloth piece that fits on afterwards. I really can't think when I've ever seen such a well thought-out and executed set of pieces before. Ever. Period. 10/10 GW, this set is just engineering perfection!

Which makes it even more disappointing that this is what the Plaguecaster looks like when complete. Moulded smoke/corruption/ just doesn't work!

I decided to put the model out of its misery, and cut it off:

Better. Unfortunately the hand has some "smoke" moulded on/over it, so I'll probably add a green-stuff tendril or two to blend it in.

Two of the Death Guard models are based on the same basic legs/back/left arm/backpack (being on the pox walker sprues), with different heads/bodies/weapons to make them different. I must say they've done a very good job of this, but I wanted to differentiate them a bit further by making the backpacks different. To that end I removed the plague knife and Nurgle symbol from one of them:

With this done, I made them as per the instructions:

Similar, but different enough that on the battlefield they'll look sufficiently distinct. In both cases too, the arms/weapons are not glued - I can remove them to aid painting.

The other Death Guard are all individuals. Here's one of them:

You'll see the division of the models is not what you might expect - here a body and leg is joined with it's back, awaiting a piece incorporating the other leg, arm and sword. When joined, these form most of the marine:

To which a piece with the head, other arm and bolter on is added:

This just needs the other piece of the backpack adding, and it's complete.

The other marines are similar - odd, but very clever, pieces coming together to create very stunning miniatures. One of the best-posed minis, however, is also one of the most ridiculous. Here is Bell-Boy:

Why, GW, why? The backpack is an even worse crime:

Now with hindsight, this would be more appropriate for the Blightbringer...but having very different fittings, it would have taken some work to fit it. Maybe for another set....

Anyway, I set about de-belling this chap, and I feel the resultant mini is much better for it. He'll need some GW tentacles under his arm to hide the worst offending bell, but at least he'll be able to move his arm - in the intended design the bell would have jammed against his backpack and he'd never be able to put his arm down!

(I got rid of the lower bell as well in the end - it wasn't hard). 

Now, back to the Space Marines and the Inceptors:

These are quite clever too - the arms have neat fixings allowing you to set them in specific positions but still have variation by way of a star on one side and a triangle on the other....very neat:

Again, these build up effortlessly into the much-more-impressive-than-the-web-site-photos models:

We left them off their flight stands until after painting.

The Ancient is another easy to put together but impressive model:

As are the Hellblasters - those weapons are huge!

Once more going back to the side of Chaos, we come to the pox walkers. These are mostly two or occasionally three-piece models, ad enormously impressive in terms of casting. They show a trace more mould lines than the marines, but that's because they're less multi-piece I think. Anyway, the fit of them is astonishingly good, just as for the other models. Here is an example - the trench coat wearing chap - the lapels are attached to the head and here they're not glued - I defy you to say you can see that...

Here's another example - the head here is attached to the gas mask and the weapon and lower forearm - a single piece. This is an incredibly fine and detailed part, which attaches to the main body in three places...faultlessly and without visible joins. Wow!

The last example is this one - the arms, back and weapon are one piece, the rest of the walker another. They join by slipping the weapon over the head and joining the back on. Unconventional, but very effective and the results are great.

So let's have another look at the completed Death Guard models. Here are the marines:

Here they are joined by their leaders:

And finally the hordes of poxwalkers:

This took a few hours of modelling over a couple of days, it would have ben less if I hadn't decided to make some major modifications of the Blightbringer, Plaguecaster and the Bell Boy marine. Oh, I also removed a big fly from one horn of a marine - it will look much better by itself! In total I removed at least 9 bells, 5 censers, a fly, a sword and a symbol of nurgle - not all shown below (and some were destroyed in taking them off!):

So what can we say of GWs plastic in this set? Well, for one, it's absolutely brilliantly engineered. The way the parts have been designed to fit together is pure genius, and the precision with which they've been transferred from design to execution is flawless. Detail is also fabulous - I can see why the "paint and wash" jobs I saw in demo games works so well - these should be easy to make look good, and I'm really looking forward to painting the Death Guard.

Of course, GW have some habits that die hard, and some of the flawless execution is let down by design trends that have been established over the past few years - moulded smoke, over-fetishing (what is it with those bells, FFS?!?) and some silly design aspects (items in places that would make the intended operation impossible). I'll probably still make some further amendments to my set (read: hacking), and it will only improve the minis - this shouldn't be the case with a brand new set!

Still, by recent trends, the design crimes are limited and can be dealt with, and the rest of the models look simply gorgeous, so I think most will forgive GW these dalliances. The minis are substantial and easily worth the price of the set, so I don't see why anyone wouldn't grab a copy and have some fun making these, painting them and then using them - for either 40k or for something else...they're gorgeous minis and the process of making them is a joy.