Derelict Depot

Battle breaks out amid the newly completed Derelict Depot!

Advancing through the wreckage.

Looking out from the abandoned garage.

Lurking in the shadows.

Moving through the scrapyard.

Garrisoning the mechanical building.

Scouting for trouble.

Overlooking the battle.

Showdown at the depot nexus!

Derelict Depot

The Derelict Depot is a board I put together for RECON+, essentially half-size games of Infinity, but it should work for a variety of skirmish games. It’s a mix of scratchbuilding, scale models, and 3D printing. More details on its creation are here:

I designed all of the 3D printed parts. Many of them are already available as free downloads in my Thingiverse collection.

The armies fighting it out here are my Military Orders and Aleph painted by Tim D.

The first step: Putting down some initial ideas.

3D printed and scratchbuilt elements.

Construction complete!

Base coating.

Painting details.

The final board!

Narrative

The story of this terrain is something like:

Early in the colonization of Ariadna, Depot E-7 was a supply outpost used by militias fighting the antipodes on the fringe of the settled area. As the border expanded outward and it was no longer militarily useful, a bold, risk-taking entrepreneur began using it as a base for an air courier service. Given the harsh conditions, limited technology, and few resources available to the colonists, its equipment was all based on very old and simple technology easy to construct and maintain. The service provided an important link ferrying supplies, messages, and people over the dangerous ground between the new, far flung settlements popping up as the colony grew rapidly. Later though the depot was overrun as its region collapsed in one of the periodic waves of antipode fighting. Although abandoned since then, it has recently come to be occasionally used as a waypoint or temporary base by various special forces teams operating on Ariadna.

The board is of course designed overall to feel abandoned and disused, but particulars of that story are captured in details here and there: Signage declares the garage to be the home of the “Air Bonsky” courier service (Bonsky being our local lead Infinity TO); militia recruitment and “EVACUATION NOTICE” posters are scattered about on some of the walls and littered on the floor; blood spatters mark where the last defender was caught when the base was overrun; a walkway has been twisted and burnt by high explosives in more recent fighting. It’s not much of a story, but it was just enough to generate some unique, cohesive imagined micro-vignettes and details to add flavor.

Air Bonsky: Why fight the antipodes when you can fly over them?

Evacuation notice poster on a wall.

Littered recruitment poster and evac notice handbill blown into a corner.

A warning not finished in time.

Play

This board is definitely designed with just a bit of priority toward aesthetics and narrative versus gameplay. In a few places it can be a touch awkward to place figures because of details, many of the shapes are slightly odd so models often don’t perfectly snug up into cover, and so on. But it’s very playable, and has interesting features.

As one example, none of the buildings have the ubiquitous low walls found on almost all Infinity MDF terrain. In places where railings make real-world sense and cover would be useful for gameplay, the metalwork is more realistically thin and open, but overgrown in thick vegetation to physically obscure models and leave no doubt they’re intended to be cover. In other places, a variety of mechanical boxes, large vent outlets, and other details scattered about provide partial cover instead of walls and screens. This approach creates some interesting dynamics. For example, the top of the garage can be a great vantage point for controlling ground below. But it’s essentially not possible to move around on it without either breaking cover between features or going prone out of sight and foregoing your own shooting, quite different from moving along a rooftop railing or edge. At the same time, it’s not possible to get cover from all angles, so no sniper can rest easy if there’s a chance the enemy can flank them—which they might very well do by running through the garage directly underneath them!

Similarly, the tallest point, the silo, has a piece on top such that models can generally only be placed solidly at the very center. A small lip prevents models from fitting at the edge. So a sniper can be placed there for a commanding view, but if they go prone they won’t be able to shoot anything, and if they stand up they won’t get cover.

The board as shown here is very dense, which impacts some armies negatively, but that just means there’s plenty of pieces to be used or not used in different games, generating a lot of variety in potential setups.

Face-on view.

Mechanical building side.

Fuel reservoirs side.

Top view.

Sniper hiding behind a rooftop mechanical box.

Roof of the garage.

Poster inside the garage.

One of Bonsky’s relic aircraft.

The mechanical building.

Gas mask warning and ladder on a fuel reservoir.

Burnt out low-tech car.

Fuel distribution tank.

Creeping behind the distribution tank.

Truck dumped out front the distribution tank.

A silo, the tallest point on the board.

Door on the silo and truck left outside.

Next!

I’m very happy with how the Derelict Depot came together. It was a nice, tractable effort that didn’t drag on forever, and got done on schedule—just barely!—for an event I wanted to use it in. My small library of 3D printable parts made expressly to quickly add details to scratchbuilt terrain like this provided plenty of variety and interesting features, and I enjoyed making good use of a number of found objects. People seem to enjoy playing on the board, the pieces have some neat game dynamics, and the terrain has a lot of character and cool visuals. Mission accomplished!

For another example of this kind of scratchbuilding + scale models + 3D printing, check out my Medea Refinery build. Partly by chance and partly by design, pieces from the two sets go together well to create a really cool, large, detailed board. I also have a few tutorials up on 3D printing and modeling.

I’m not sure quite when I’ll get to them with NOVA and other events coming up, but I’m kicking around a couple neat ideas for new boards and in some cases have even started some work. Stay tuned!

As a bonus, the Derelict Depot packs up perfectly into a box I had on hand!

Derelict Depot: Painting

A few weekends ago I got to painting my Derelict Depot, a mix of scratchbuilding, model kits, and 3D printing as described in the construction walkthrough:

The assembled Derelict Depot.

Colors

In choosing colors for the set I started with dark red and grey, mostly because I had spray cans of those laying around. But using those also meant these pieces would fit right in with my Medea Refinery board, adding a bunch of LOS blockers and scatter terrain to that collection. To add variety though I opted to do the big buildings here in olive green and some of the containers in red and yellow.

I used a lot of leftover white foam packaging in constructing this set, which some spray paints will melt. Generally I haven’t had a problem with that, but have had a couple cans that did eat such foam, so always test on a scrap piece first. To reduce the amount of spray painting on the white foam though, I brush primed those areas with two coats of black. All the other pieces got a good coat of spray black to start. Often you can just go straight to the base colors if you’re spraying, but the black coats better, adds another layer to help mitigate chipping, and if you spray the colors lighter and from a slight angle it creates some natural shading in the corners and recesses.

Unfortunately I had not previously used the olive green I picked up and it reacted badly with either the temperature on the day I was doing this, or the materials. On the trucks it cracked and broke, which would have been devastating on a normal model but worked great with the derelict theme. On the buildings though it fuzzed up a bit and became crumbly. Still not really a problem with the theme, but it made them feel funny and the paint a bit fragile to the touch.

Priming everything black.

Colored base coats.

Cracking on one of the trucks.

More Color

Following the base coating I wasn’t sure how much more time I’d get to work on these again before I wanted to use them. So I went with a technique I picked up watching my friend Sascha help paint the Medea Refinery, basically spray painting a bunch of details rather than brushing them. So mechanical boxes, doors, ladders, etc., all got sprayed in various colors without worrying too much about overspray—quite an affront to my OCD tendencies! Definitely wouldn’t work for all styles of terrain and isn’t to everyone’s taste, but it’s fast and I like the look of it for these kind of pieces. All the overspray just looks like rust, wear, etc., and ties everything together.

From there, still concerned about getting more time for this and feeling overeager with the spray paints, I went on and lightly oversprayed various colors across all the pieces. Having hints of the whole palette on each piece helps tie it all together visually, and lightly spraying this particular selection of colors also makes it all look weathered. Although I’d started off with a board previously painted, I felt it didn’t match this color scheme well so it got spray painted similarly. At this point I felt the pieces were all interesting and playable as-is even if I didn’t get back to them.

Multi-colored and somewhat weathered pieces.

Top of the garage.

Weathered truck.

Weathered plane.

Weathered console.

Site Designations

Fortunately I did wind up with more time to work on the set. So I sat down for a marathon overnight session of detailing and finishing. A key theme throughout this though was still facing a time crunch, trying to add a bunch of visual appeal under tight time constraints before hopefully using it in an event the next day.

So, thinking about quickly adding color and detail, first I added some site designations. Using some cardboard alphanumeric stencils, I spray painted “E 7” on a bunch of the buildings. A medium tip ink pen then let me quickly outline the lettering with thin, clean black lines. Of course the new lettering stood out against the weathering sprays, so it then got drybrushed appropriately to wear it back into the pieces.

Stencil masking the site designation on the silo.

Site designation after removing the stencil.

Outlining the lettering with an ink pen.

Drybrushing over the site designation to blend it into the weathered paint.

Hazard Stripes

Another quick way to add color and life to the scene was to throw a bunch of hazard stripes on various pieces. These were done real quickly by brushing on several coats of dark yellow, taping off the yellow stripes, brushing on black, and then drybrushing the whole stripe appropriately to weather and blend it into the piece.

Hazard stripes inverse masked on a solid yellow base.

Black part of hazard stripes painted on.

Finished hazard stripe.

Details

Still good to go on time, I set about with a brush picking out details. Some things were painted as normal and then drybrushed to blend and weather them into the existing paint job. For example, the tires and rims on the vehicles were painted black and silver and then drybrushed rust brown. The few organic elements around, like the duffel bags on the trucks, got painted a leather brown and then washed a dirt brown. Various dead light fixtures and computer consoles were painted black or dark purple and washed with the same. Other features were done solely with heavy drybrushing to add color and distinguish the feature but not break it out too much from the background, e.g., drybrushing a dark brown on the cabling or steel on the various scrap laying around. All the gravel and texture on the bases and the board itself also got drybrushed appropriately. Some metal edges and so on then got a hint of silver drybrushing to seem worn or jagged, like on the ends of the roughly cut scrap pipes.

Painting details on the garage. A layer of Modge Podge cures on the mechanical building in the background.

Painting details on the vehicles with my helper as dawn approaches.

Posters

I still had some minutes for detail work, so the finishing touch was to print up some signage and posters on cardstock. These were cut up, in some cases further filled out with ink pen scribblings, glued to various pieces either on the walls or crumpled up as litter on the ground, and then washed brown to age and grime them heavily.

Printed signage, posters, and litter.

Sealing

All these pieces are intended for public use in my local shop’s tournaments and such, so even if they’re not out all the time they still need to stand up to some abuse. The board and all the foam and cardstock surfaces therefore got coated in Modge Podge to seal them with a protective layer. This also resolved the problem mentioned above with the olive green paint having fuzzed up in the heat and feeling crumbly. Modge Podge can add a bit of a gloss sheen, but I knew the final steps would take care of that…

Covering the board in Modge Podge.

Carbon

Last up, I wanted to knock down the brighter colors and better blend the brushed details in with the sprayed “weathering.” So everything got quickly “washed” in carbon black pigment. Out of time, I didn’t try to do any real weathering here, caveat being sure to generally throw on the pigment low and then brush it upward so that it tended to collect and be heaviest toward the bottom of pieces. In some cases this “wash” dimmed the colors a bit more than I would have wanted, but overall I thought it really made the pieces feel more lifelike without hardly any effort. It also definitely made the sprayed and brushed details feel uniformly worn.

Once the pigment was on I just sealed it in place with dull coat spray. That’s not really sufficient to secure thick applications of pigment, but for a wash like this and even with some thin accumulation on the tops of a few pieces it was fine.

Fully painted tank.

Tank “washed” in pigment.

Play!

In the end, after working all through the night, at just about exactly noon I did the last batch of dull coat spraying, took a shower, and jumped in the car to head to the shop and get the board set up just in time for a 1pm Infinity tournament—success!

Critical to this was carefully staging all the various tasks so that I didn’t have any downtime. The ordering above is just notional, in reality the various steps were mixed up and interleaved across all the pieces so I was never just sitting around waiting. A prime example was doing the buildings first so I could Modge Podge the fragile parts and then work on painting the vehicles while that dried. All told this whole board got painted in about 16 hours of work: 2+ hours spraying one day and the rest leading directly up to the debut event. In hindsight I wished I had done the detail brush work and then gone back to do the weathering sprays, but it worked out fine in the end between drybrushing and pigment washing so this was an acceptable strategy to ensure I had pieces ready even if I didn’t get to work on them more.

A few of us played games in the newly built Derelict Depot in that tournament and it worked well. One modification needed was that it was immediately clear I needed to add some vegetation and such to make the railings and such provide overt partial cover, as planned in the construction writeup but not completed beforehand, so I did that afterward. The board definitely isn’t going to be loved by everybody, it’s more oriented toward narrative and aethestics than pure gameplay. Some of the details and unique shapes make placing figures, especially in cover, a bit more fiddly in a few places than standard MDF terrain. It’s also super dense if you put on all the pieces—very challenging for my own airborne-oriented squads! Realistically you could probably make two boards out of the collection with a more typical level of density.

But, it looked great, has a lot of unique details both mechanically and visually, and turned out very well. Gallery photos of the final product to come!

Don and Lovell fighting it out on the brand new board.

A Morat commands their troops from the mechanical building.

40k 8th Edition Isn’t Any Less Messy, But Could Be At Least As Great

There’s rightfully a lot of buzz around 40k’s 8th edition even among people not currently engaged with the game, e.g., among the X-Wing crowd here, and I’m hoping we can recruit fresh new players into our local community. So this morning I sat down with the leaked rules to be prepared to run demo games at a release party tomorrow.

Literally almost instantly one of my biggest fears about this edition seemed confirmed: The rules are at times sloppy and inadequately specified, a casualty of mistaking shorter text for streamlined gameplay.

By absolutely no means is that to say they’re unplayable, broken, or won’t be fun. I’m looking forward to the edition and think it could be great. But we shouldn’t go into this new era of Warhammer 40,000 with unrealistic expectations that the game is suddenly free from significant open rules questions, let alone balance issues.

Coherency

The example that leapt out at me immediately is unit coherency, one of the core concepts in 40k and one distinguishing it from many other types of miniatures games wherein models act individually or in strict formations.

7th Edition

Here’s how 7th edition defines coherency:

… once a unit has finished moving, the models in it must form an imaginary chain where the distance between one model and the next is no more than 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically. We call this ‘unit coherency’.

Main rules on coherency for 7th edition.

This is a fundamental mechanic of the game that’s simple in essence but surprisingly somewhat tricky to capture fully. As such its main rule gets an entire page in the 7th edition rulebook (pg 19). In addition, there is an earlier note explaining the intent that “Units fight in loose groups with gaps between each model…” (pg 9), and special provisions for vehicle squadrons (pg 79) and independent characters (pg 166).

This 7th edition definition is already not ideal. What is an “imaginary chain”? That’s not a formal game term with any precise meaning. The rule relies on the reader’s understanding of an intuitive concept. That’s problematic on its own, but then the two “X” formations given as permitted formations exacerbate it by not actually fitting a typical natural idea of a chain as a single linear sequence of links, e.g., a necklace or lock. The definition relies on an intuitive understanding that isn’t applied in a totally clear and straightforward fashion.

In contrast, you could define coherency simply and unambiguously with plain text like:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit a sequence can be listed from one to the other of models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Or, spelling out some of the implications just a bit more:

A unit is in coherency if for every pair of models in the unit they are either within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other or a sequence can be listed from one to the other of other models in the unit each within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of its predecessor.

Both of these definitions are intuitive, unambiguous translations from formal graph theoretic terminology, in which you would concisely define coherency via:

The graph over models in the unit with an edge between every pair of models within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of each other must be connected.

Regardless of these more clear specifications, the text and figures in the 7th edition rules get the concept across solidly and concisely: Models in a unit are supposed to move and fight in close proximity. If you came to the game knowing nothing about it, you would quickly understand that models in a unit cannot be spread all over the place.

8th Edition

Here’s how 8th edition defines unit coherency:

A unit must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit: this is called unit coherency.

Coherency rules in 8th edition.

This is a short, concise rule. But consider this unit of four brave 2nd edition warriors divided into spread apart pairs with the paired models each 2″ apart:

A unit of 4 models in coherency under 8th edition rules.

Assume they deployed that way or properly moved “as a group,” all at one time rather than switching between units. The pictured unit is then inarguably in coherency under 8th edition rules. To quote: “Every model [is] within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit.” All of the models meet all of the given criteria. Yet there’s that 12″ gap in the unit completely against all previous concepts and rules of unit coherency.

That gap could be arbitrarily wide, and there are a lot of reasons you might want some configuration like this. Just off the cuff: You could take a unit of heavy weapons, divide them up into pairs, and spread them all across your deployment zone so that you have a mini-fireteam positioned on each shooting lane. This generally would not have been a particularly helpful before, but in 8th edition all the models can target different enemies so it could definitely be useful. More problematic, you could take a portion of a unit and put it in an essentially unreachable location so that it effectively can’t take wounds. Such near invulnerability could be very powerful if a model or models are providing an ability, stat, buff, or acting as some kind of battery for the unit.

Personally I don’t think this is the designers’ intent, it’s just too big a change to the feel of the game and too awkward. Granted there have been substantial changes made in this edition, but none of the official previews have flagged this as one of them. Regardless, absent official FAQ or errata, intent doesn’t matter, because you could argue it either way. Consider interacting with a newcomer to the game:

  • They set up a bunch of Devastators spread across their deployment zone.
  • You say they can’t do that.
  • They ask you to show them the rule saying they can’t.
  • You claim the designers intended for units to fight close together.
  • They ask you to prove it.
  • You say it’s always been that way.
  • They point to any number of rules that were “always that way” and now aren’t.

Maybe the designers do now intend for models of a unit to be able to fight off in pairs because at least as long as they have a buddy backing them up they’re able to operate semi-independently? It would be scarcely “crazier” as an intended change than independent characters not being able to join units.

So, now what to do? For better or for worse this updated rule potentially changes the game quite a bit, reducing one of its differences from skirmish games. A configuration like this is completely against previous ideas of coherency so most players with even minimal experience are going to think it’s wrong. Having units all over the board will definitely slow games down. Worst of all, it will be extremely frustrating if someone tries to exploit what is probably an inadvertently granted ability to hide away a battery or ability-granting model while other elements of its unit operate elsewhere.

Casualties

Here’s another problem circling 8th edition coherency that doesn’t require anything but a very possible outcome in very traditional and straightforward play: What if a unit takes casualties such that it is no longer in coherency and cannot get back into coherency in a single move? This is not uncommon, for example, with any decent sized unit that loses models in the middle of a stretched out line, and there is no rule forbidding or preventing a player from allocating wounds in such a way.

Previous editions had a simple paragraph of text explaining that the unit had to try to move back toward coherency as best as possible at each opportunity to do so. Rules-as-written in the 8th edition text though, that unit is immobilized. If a unit “must be set up and finish any sort of move as a group with every model within 2″ horizontally and 6″ vertically of at least one other model from their unit” then it cannot make a move that ends with it out of coherency, plain and simple. There is no other provision to move given, so a unit that has its coherency broken and cannot restore it in a single move is thereafter stuck.

Units getting immobilized like this doesn’t seem like anything that would be reasonably intended. It’s very non-intuitive, frustrating gameplay, not explicitly described, a major change, and not a previewed one. Presumably most people will play as before and move toward coherency as best as possible. But then: Do you have to advance, or is it enough to just move? Previous editions explicitly noted that you had to run as well if you were out of coherency and could not restore it in a move, but there is no such note about advancing in 8th and it would not be absurd for someone to not assume such.

To that point about assumptions, what if you’ve never played before? How do you know what to do when coherency breaks? Being stuck clearly isn’t going to seem right but the straight rules text doesn’t let you move or provide other guidance, so now you’re putting your game on pause to deliberate on what should happen, potentially consult forums, and so on. A chunk of the time savings gained in speeding up the game just got burned up, and that’s for a very simple question with immediately likely answers.

In sum: Many people will simply say “Don’t be that guy, just play the obvious way and don’t exploit the rules.” But why shouldn’t I play to win within the given rules? And what if you’ve never played before? Who decides what’s obvious and fair? That obviously should be and largely can only be Games Workshop, but as they have so many times in the past, they’ve abdicated that role on these example questions.

Streamlined

Many people think of ambiguous and unclear rules as problems mostly for tournament players. But that’s entirely wrong. Despite the various communities with their own FAQs and such, tournament players are the most prepared to mitigate and obviate these kinds of issues. Playing with strangers and in a competitive settling quickly exposes rules misunderstandings and uncertainties, forcing their resolution. Tournaments also have the people, structure, and impetus to develop and disseminate FAQs as needed.

Casual players don’t have any of that. They’re on their own, encountering problems ad hoc and coming up with ad hoc solutions, and then potentially hitting entirely different solutions when they do go play other people, even casually. What happens to people at home playing 40k the first time unit coherency is broken and they have to figure out what to do next? Their game just stalled as they work it out. Worse, what about some young newcomer who builds a whole army strategy around breaking up their heavy weapons into mini-fireteams and then shows up at weeknight open gaming only to be told that’s not how the game works even though the rules don’t actually forbid it and they have no a priori way to know that? That’s going to be devastating.

In order to play games quickly and with strangers possessing their own set of assumptions and experiences, you need clear rules, regardless of how competitive or casual the match. Ambiguity is detrimental to the experience of all types of players.

I’m all for streamlining games. Being able to play games quickly is one huge positive. Clear and concise rules with an underlying elegance often also yield more strategic depth. But note in this area at least that nothing has been streamlined, the rules are just marginally shorter in text. The original coherency rules were two short, clear paragraphs that adequately captured a simple mechanic even as they could have perhaps been made even shorter and more clear. Instead, now there’s almost as much text as before, the game is no simpler, and a number of additional questions are generated even with only cursory investigation. Frustratingly, this isn’t even a space saving issue—there’s plenty of whitespace on that page immediately below the rule that could have been used to define coherency just as well as before or better.

Maybe I’m way off base and despite all indications the new coherency rules are indeed intended to permit splitting up units into pairs. But how to act when coherency is broken seems like an outright omission. It’s a straightforward one so probably it won’t be too much of a problem. But these are non-trivial, completely unnecessary problems that did not exist before and come up within the first minute of reading the new rules, literally in the third paragraph. How many other similar issues are there going to be in these “streamlined” rules? How many of them are exploitable to distort the game? Even setting aside Games Workshop’s track record on these kinds of issues, encountering such questions so quickly at minimum warrants some skepticism about what else will come up in the rest of the rules once read in depth and on the table.

Play

One of the risks in simplifying a game design, especially in revamping a large, complicated ruleset, is over-streamlining. Miniatures games are complicated. It’s often very difficult to spell out intended mechanics and behaviors in a short, simple way. There are many edge cases that need to be covered, and people come at rules with a broad spectrum of assumptions. Simply cutting text is not the same as clarifying and speeding up the game. Just a few more sentences here—carried over from previous editions, no less—would have averted non-trivial potential for confusion and abuse.

Despite the observations in this post I’m optimistic about this edition and excited about the enthusiasm around it. I think it quite likely to turn out really fun to play and a huge boon to 40k. But we should not be over optimistic that it is magically free of open issues or not already, even before release, in need of FAQs and erratas. There are multiple reasonable indications to the contrary and it would be completely appropriate to assume so of any essentially new ruleset for any game. Rebooted 40k also may not be intrinsically more suited than it has been in the past to either competitive or pick-up battles, as opposed to play in small, repeat groups that develop a shared consensus understanding of the rules.

The good news though is people have made all those viable in past editions. So, yes, we’ll probably still need to hammer out FAQs and complain about balance and construct missions to address various issues and so on. Eighth edition could and should be great, but just as with past versions I also think it’s going to take work. The real question then becomes: Is this a better basis from which to do that work? I think so, and I certainly hope so. We’ll start finding out tomorrow!