Hawk Wargames Justifies Scenery Pricing

It seems the general outrage from the wargaming community – much 0f it coming from me – over the prices of Hawk Wargames scenery has provoked a response from them. It can be read in full here. In my opinion it’s largely bollocks.

RANT INCOMING

The general gist surrounds cutting edge technology and a modular system allowing limitless potential and superior resins etc. This is all crap. Their resin is not the best. Not even close. The technology is the same technology that Spartan and the Games Workshop uses. Spartan seem to be able punt their wares out at a reasonable price. And if the tile system was resulting in shrinkage in a ‘cheaper’ resin then it’s a flawed concept and should have been abandoned in favour of something else, not passing on the truly stellar costs on to the customer. Who were hardly demanding a modular scenery system that’s only any good for that one game. Plus, there’s nothing innovative about mounting tiles on foam board. Innovation would have been scenery sets that you can just build out of the box.

There’s also some cock and bull about the tiles being super detailed. They’re not. Don’t get me wrong they look cool, but they’re nothing to hit your hobby spot. The overall finished effect is very striking but they are nowhere near the detail or other scenery kits out there. I also have to ask the question; how important is a modular system in a game where the emphasis is on air units – so you’re only looking at the roofs – and when buildings are essentially obstacles rather than things to be interacted with?

But it boils down to total lack of commercial sense. £720 for 15 buildings make no sense. Even if all of the crap about the finest quality blah blah blah was true, anyone with a shred of business acumen would conclude it is not commercially viable to punt out scenery, the lowest priority purchase for probably 90% of gamers, at those prices, and instead look at an alternative way of doing things. It’s either naivety, arrogance or petulance.

It’s great that Hawk Wargames have such high standards but they’re forcing those standards on the customer. The majority of whom simply can’t afford it. The number of gamers I’ve spoken to who are just going to bust out old Epic scenery or just use the paper buildings compared to those that’ll actually spend the money is 20 to 1. I also have to ask; where’s the innovation in system that requires you to mount your lovely expensive scenery tiles onto foam board? True innovation would have been a system that looks good, is easy to build, and doesn’t bust the bank. Unfortunately it doesn’t do any of those things.

I really feel Hawk has blindly stumbled into the same position the Games Workshop are in now in so much as they are producing a desirable product at a ridiculous price. But whereas the Games Workshop have 30 years of canon to draw in loyal customers time and again to hide their dropping customer numbers by paying increased prices, Hawk just doesn’t. But more than that, gamers can buy proxy models to cut costs so they can continue to play Games Workshop games, short of building paper buildings Dropzone gamers don’t have the option. And for gamers looking at getting into a new system I struggle to see how they can look at Dropzone Commander as a financially viable option any more.

Especially with the stand out comedy moment of the FAQ being when they recommend just 10 buildings for a 4×4 game. So only a £460 layout.  So that’s all right. What makes it worse is that it’s bullshit. We played on a 4×4 board with 15 buildings and we were told that ideally, to play the game the way it was design we’d need at least another 10. And you know what; I’d agree with it. Interestingly as well, pretty much all the scenario diagrams have 15 buildings in them…

I think it boils down to the this. Hawk Wargames may think they can justify £720 for 15 buildings and claim they’re awesome. Maybe they are awesome and maybe £720 is good value for money, but they’ve missed the point. It never should have gotten this far. At the product development stage someone should have said ‘fucking hell, this is gonna come out a bit expensive’. It’s a classic example of being too close to a project to objectively look at it and question it’s viability. The tiles are a great idea but if it wasn’t going to work whilst making it affordable it should have been canned.

As it stands Dropzone Commander is one of the most expensive games in the market with zero justification to be beyond an alleged high quality resin. My sources in the know tell me this is balls. Yes, okay, so they may be positioning themselves as a premium product but in a recession that’s retarded. Plus it isn’t a premium product. Erratas for the rules hit the site the day of release and continue to be updated. The rule book itself is badly laid out. For all their posturing about casting quality, miscasts have been rife. And let me ask this; what happens if the tiles even slightly warp? You’ve paid out a fucking fortune for something that doesn’t line up.

I full appreciate how bilious this post is coming across, but I don’t care. I don’t feel Hawk Wargames have a solid perspective and instead of reconsidering the viability of the scenery, they have instead tried to justify the colossal expense. Because, quite simply, I can buy myself a Warhound Titan from Forge World for less money than the supposed 10 buildings (minimum) I’d need to fill a 4×4 board for Dropzone Commander.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see what they come up with next…

Of Dice & Men – Episode 2

It’s here, episode 2! Now with 200% more content!ODAM

In episode 2 of Of Dice & Men the team talk about their hobby, wargaming blogs that have caught their eye and the importance of background in the building and playing of a game, and does poor fluff mean poor army lists?

We also learn that Jason’s mental, Adam is a deviant, Nate is in a sulk and Phil goes off on a rant. Again.

Of Dice & Men Episode 2

Is the Hawk becoming a Turkey?

Resin scenery is finally available to pre-order on the Hawk Wargames website. Having seen the real deal when I was invited to Hawk HQ for playtesting I was excited for DzC gamers. Despite my misgivings about Hawk’s truly shameful pricing policy the models are ace, the game – once you’ve deciphered the rulebook – is good and the scenery did look superb.

Sadly however, all my misgivings immediately bubbled to the surface when I saw the prices. £7.50 for ten wall tiles. This may not seem that much but they’re only 36mm wide by 21mm high. Ten tiles will not make a building of note. And roof tiles and accessories are separate.

Anyone who plays Games Workshop games is no stranger to high prices but I’m starting to wonder what Hawk Wargames are up to. Army deals that start at £68 with very little of the good stuff in them and the bigger better army deals are on available on the Hawk Wargames website and they are no better on the value for money stakes. The Metropolis pack was what we used for our playtest game. More or less anyway, some of the buildings didn’t have backs to them but in terms of board space that’s what we used. It covers a 4×4 board but it doesn’t fill a 4×4 board. To play the game as it was intended you’d need a Metropolis pack and, at least, a City Pack.

On the plus side the scenery does look gorgeous when it’s painted up but £740 for enough scenery for a 4×4 board? I mean are they fucking high? As they seem to thing they have the muscle of Games Workshop let’s use them as a comparison. Specifically Forge World. Specifically the Forge World Zone Mortalis board set. It costs £350 for a 4×4 board that’s modular. And that is an absolute shit load of resin. So for less than half the money for 15 buildings for DzC you can get a fully pimped 4×4 board. From Games Workshop. The most expensive wargaming company ever.

Or are they? I’m really concerned that Hawk Wargames have lost touch with reality a little bit. They’re in a full tilt blind rush to pay off their investor and simultaneously expand the business (plus pay off all the unplanned expense of increasing production) that they seem to think that gamers will blindly pay that kind of money. Now I’ve been in wargaming long enough to know that there are some people who will happily part with £740 for scenery, and good for them, but for the vast majority of gamers scenery is an after thought and something they will but would rather not spend money on.

Personally I love a good bit of scenery. I’ve got enough 40k buildings to fill and 8×4 board and I’d happily get more. But it only costs me £70 for an Imperial Sector, which is crammed full of plastic, will fill a 4×4 board and I can build it how I like. And it’s not made of one of the most expensive resin blends going. I completely understand why Hawk Wargames felt the need to cast their models the way they did. The detail is stunning and they’re robust. But they need to be stunning and robust. Scenery just doesn’t. Again, a lovely bit of a scenery really sets off a board and there’s no denying that the photography in the DzC rulebook is stunning; however it seems crazy to cast scenery, that just sits there, out of the same stuff. I also suspect that Hawk are attempting to squeeze the same margin out of scenery as they are their models. Which, again, is mental.

The laughable thing is that because the tiles are so thin they have to be mounted on something like foam card anyway. Which makes me  think that perhaps a cheaper grade resin cast in blocks so it’s stackable may have been the smarter move. I also suspect it would have been cheaper too.

Between a shocking lack of planning leading up to launch, over priced models, over priced scenery, an iffy rulebook and a pervasive arrogant indifference since the game release I’m deeply concerned about Hawk Wargames. I can’t decide if it’s greed, over ambition or because they want to pay the bills. I have no idea but there’s already striking similarities between Hawk and Games Workshop both in attitude and pricing structure. And I’m not one to defend Games Workshop and how they do things but at least they have share holders cracking the whip and setting targets the business has to meet.

For a company that claimed to have had its roots in the community, that allegedly puts the community first they seem to be completely out of touch with what is reasonable and what is reasonable for the money. The one good thing that’s come out of this though is that it’s made me realise that GW isn’t all that bad and actually a realm of battle board for £175 isn’t comparatively bad. And I’d still have enough money to buy 2 Imperial Sectors (£140), the 40k rulebook (£45) a Codex Space Marines (£25) Mega Forces (£300) to play on it and I’d still have £55 to spend on some glue and paint.

Obviously you don’t have to spend that much. Obviously you can buy fewer buildings and obviously I’m taking the most expensive as an example. But only because I know that gamers are realistically going to need that many buildings to get the most out of the game because it was designed to be played, primarily, in dense cityscapes. With so many awesome games already in a very flooded market. With Spartan and even Games Workshop able to match the quality of design and (most of the time) casting but for a better price I don’t see where Hawk Wargames expects to go. But a tweet I saw earlier today summed it up rather well for me, which read;

‘so just seen the price of the @HawkWargames resin buildings. Think I will keep my paper buildings’

 

Shell Case Shorts 8 – Winner

August’s Shell Case Shorts was all about sci-fi as the prize was nothing less than a signed copy of Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames.

There was some great entries but the winning entry had to go to Erin Freeman (@SixEleven) for not only setting his story in the Dropzone universe but for telling the story from the point of view from a dropship pilot, something which is at heart of Dropzone Commander.

So, without further a-do I give you…

Seventeen Minutes - by Erin Freeman

Seventeen minutes. Seventeen minutes was the amount of time between take off and being knocked out of the sky. Seventeen minutes and my world would be turned upside down.

It was supposed to be a fairly routine mission, do it by the numbers and go home. We’d done a hundred like ‘em and there was nothing to make us think this time would be any different. What’s that saying about pride and a fall?

***

The roar of our twin vindicator cannons reverberated around the cockpit of the gunship, rattling the consoles in their frames and shaking the fillings loose in my head. Another target suppressed. It it rarely matters in war whether you hit the target or not, just whether or not they’re able to fire back. My gunner takes his finger off the firing stud as the temperature gauge starts to turn red and the lack of noise is striking. It doesn’t last for long as movement ahead provokes another withering hail of fire. Something vanishes into a push of red.

The special ops team we were escorting and providing close air support for had been on the ground for four minutes. In that time they had moved into the nearby building and were clearing it room by room. I could hear their comm chatter and bursts of weapons fire. It was messy in there. Above them, my tub and the dropship the special forces had ridden in on were doing their damnedest to keep out of reach of the anti-air fire coming their way from floors our boys had yet to clear. But for all their determination each pot shot only brought more torrents of fire from our guns on to their heads. 

A red light winked on the main console accompanied by a dirty squawk. I tapped at the light, irritated, the missile lock detection system had been playing up for days but none of the mechanics had been able to fix it. A swift thump to the console and the light went out and the squawking along with it. A burst of comm traffic from headquarters warned us of light PHR walkers in the area. I couldn’t help but smile. It was me that had reported them in the first place. Everything we’d seen on the West side of the river had been light walkers and infantry. Nothing we couldn’t handle.

Not that it mattered either way. The mission had been designated Priority-one which meant come hell, high water or immanent crushing defeat, we had to complete our mission. UCM Intelligence had indicated the structure the spec-ops team was in was a hub for a network of underground tunnels that connected to buildings two kilometres behind our lines. They’d been making monkeys out of us, and mince meat out of our men, for weeks and the brass had just about had enough.

The plan was drawn up with the usual flare that the UCM was renowned for. Turn up. Shoot our way in. Complete the mission. Shoot our way out. On top of that we only had a vague idea of which building possessed the tunnel network. It was only the volume of light weapons fire we took coming in that validated our suspicions. 

The comm burst to life in my headset again although it was chopped to hell with static. A lucky shot had hit the communications relay and was now threading everything with static. I recognise the merest sound bite long enough to recognise the voice of my wingman, Janus. I looked over to him waving to get his attention before tapping my head set and then drawing a line across my throat so he knew my comms were down. He nodded his understanding and signed that light walkers had been spotted moving on our position. I signalled my understanding and passed the information to my gunner who was already spinning up his guns.

***

Ten minutes into the mission and the barrels of the vindicators were glowing red as their ammunition ripped apart PHR infantry caught in the open and sawed through the legs of a light walker attempting to protect them. The entire area was choked with smoking wreckage and the burst bodies of the dead. The mission was going well, almost too well. Apart from having to continually adjust the dropship’s position to target the oncoming PHR infantry, the mission was shaping up to be as much fun as escorting a senior officer around a recently secured city sector.

What’s that saying about being careful what you wish for? 

I was torn from my musings by the threat detection console going crazy. System jammers sent the electronic countermeasures haywire and the missile lock warning shrieked like a frightened child. As I struggled to re-engage counter measures the world was suddenly replaced by a searing white light and the sound of shredding metal, explosions and screaming.

For what seemed like an age all I could see was white light as my brain tried to decipher just what had happened to it. As my vision gradually returned to normal everything felt simultaneously normal yet out-of-place. All I could hear was the chatter over the Comm informing me of the bloody obvious, that PHR heavy walkers were active in my sector. There was no howl of engines. No wind noise. And a strange sense of weightlessness. I had just enough time to realise that we were going down before the ground rushed up to meet me and everything went suddenly black.

***

I came to only moments after blacking out. My cockpit was a charred mess and the stink of burning plastics hung in the air, mixing with the taste of blood in my mouth. I numbly fumbled for the canopy release and with a systematic bang of exploding bolts it blew clear. I was immediately bombarded by the battle unfolding on the streets. The crack of small arms fire, punctuated by the crump of grenades all with the undertones of flyers streaking overhead and the familiar whine of vindicator Gatling guns opening up.

Bullets ricochet off the hull of the downed gunship with a comical spanking sound focussing my concussed mind.  Glancing behind me I could see that neither my co-pilot or gunner had to worry about being focussed ever again. How I’d survived a nose first impact with the ground has remained a mystery to me but I was eternally grateful none the less.

Above me Janus’ gunship was still airborne, furiously jinking and bouncing his aircraft in an effort to avoid the worst of the anti-air fire. The hull was scorched and dented from a few lucky escapes where explosives had glanced off or failed to detonate. A smoky contrail and a desperate near miss gave Janus a target of opportunity. I watched from my cockpit as he expertly wheeled on the spot and targeted a crumbling residential building two blocks down.

The familiar, comforting, sound of the vindicators rippled into life and the facade of the building exploded into an expanding cloud of dust and debris before the entire side of the building, already undermined from centuries of neglect broke away altogether and toppled into the street bringing with it broken bodies in opalescent armour.

I remember punching the air like some wet behind the ears, green back, rookie. The PHR deserved everything they got for standing in our way when by rights they should have been fighting alongside us. My elation was short-lived, however, when another rocket burst from the shadowy depth of a nearby tenement and crashed into the back of Janus’ gunship. Flames and smoke belched from the number two engine and the deep throaty engines became plaintive and stuttering.

For a moment I could see Janus struggling with the control stick, desperately trying to keep his bird aloft. He’d lingered too long, stayed on station to try to provide cover for what was turning into a cluster fuck. The gunship lurched upwards, looping drunkenly  down a narrow street. I lost sight of him but the explosion and resulting fireball reaching skywards moments later told me all I needed to know of the fate of my friend and his crew.

With nothing left for me to do but survived I yanked my rifle free from its magclamps on the cockpit floor and made a run for it. I already knew the PHR had me zeroed in as the odd opportunistic shot had come my way. I ducked, I wove and put as much covered as I could between me and where I suspected the sharp shooters were hiding. I felt a round tug at my tunic but ignored it. Stopping meant dead.

I slid to a stop behind a pile of concrete just as a PHR heavy walker lumbered into view. I recalled the garbled comms transmission. Heavy walkers active in your area. No fucking shit. In the area they looked like plucked chickens. On the ground they looked like big scary chickens with massive guns. It’s torso swiveled, weapons tracking skywards as it sought out fresh targets. 

They say in combat time slows down and reactions faster and senses heightened. I don’t know if that’s true or but because when something big comes up against something equally big hell breaks loose to the extent your mind wants to find the darkest corner possible and hide. When the shooting started my instincts took over. I’m not sure how I managed to scramble beneath the debris, let alone curl up into a fetal position, clutching my head as the ground reverberated with the concussive forces being unleashed around me. By the time silence has returned to this corner of the city two more aircraft were smoking wrecks on the ground and the third had bugged out, smoke pouring from its engines.

I risked a glance over the debris and felt the colour drain from my face as barely 10 feet away stood the walker, weapon systems smoking and the sensor dish mounted to its body clicking and whirring. I had no doubt in my mind it was looking for survivors, something else to shoot at. After a few long minutes it loosed a volley of shots into my downed craft almost, it seemed, out of principle and stalked off with what I can only describe as a sense of disappointment.

***

I stayed put for a few minutes to make sure the walker had genuinely moved on before I broke cover. I had to link with the special forces unit and somehow get the hell out of this God forsaken city. With no chance of rescue, at least not from the air, I had to move. The first rule of being downed behind enemy lines was evade capture and, frankly, I was too pretty for prison. My options were clear; either try to hot foot it back to base or link up with the spec-ops and exfill with them. As base was the other side of a war zone it was really no option at all. The second rule of survival training was await for rescue. In the absence of rescue I decided I’d settle for the next best thing; somewhere to hide.

I peered over the balcony rail of an Easterly facing apartment on the 5th floor of an old tenement. In its heyday it would have been quite luxurious but the centuries, and the Scourge, had been cruel. Overlooking the crash site I was in the building diagonally opposite that of the spec-ops team who were plying their trade in. I could only cross my fingers that they were having a better time than I was. 

I stood watch at that balcony for what felt like hours when in reality on minutes were ticking by. The scene below me was oddly calm, the nature left to run-amok oblivious is to the sudden violence unleashed moment before. The scene was ruined seconds later by the walker once more striding into view. It’s body swiveled, as it began to scan the ruins and buildings in the area once more, seeking easy prey or any survivors it might have missed. Hot on its heels a couple of units PHR infantry, clearly emboldened by the presence of such awe-inspiring weapon of war, trotted into view. I immediately dropped down behind the balcony, gripping my rifle tightly. I’m not ashamed to admit that I felt fear or, for that briefest of moments, gave into the real chance that I might not make out in one piece.

I risked a glance over the balcony, with great timing as ever, as I’m just in time to see the target building implode. Spec-ops had continued with their mission, despite the chaos unfolding outside. As the PHR forces scattered I realised that the spec-ops were already out and moving to envelope the PHR infantry. Caught unprepared and in the open the PHR infantry were torn to pieces. The walker, quicker to recover turned and began stalking towards the UCM infantry, its weapons spooling up. I wanted to shout a warning but at this distance it wouldn’t be heard.

My eyes scanned the sky in vain for some sign that reinforcements were on the way to save the out-gunned elite soldiers. And once again my timing was uncanny as no sooner had the thought entered my head but a second squad of special ops broke cover from the building opposite my own. It turned out they were keeping tabs on the battle all along and had been waiting for the opportune moment to strike. The walker had its back to the men as it stalked towards the first squad. To my surprise they ran for the building I had taken refuge in. My angry objections died in my throat as the entire bottom three floors of the building they had just vacated disappeared in an expanding cloud of fire, debris and shattered glass.

The PHR walker immediately span on the spot, forgetting all about the spec-ops team it was hunting. It gave the soldiers the opening they needed. Aiming for the weaker knee joints of the walker both teams unleashed their anti-armour rockets, blasting apart the poorly armoured joints, smashing the legs apart and pitching the walker into the ground with a fatal and final thud.

Time seems to slow down as I watch, such a fearsome machine of war put out of action by the simple act of surprise and a few well placed high velocity armour-piercing rounds. The earth shakes as it crashes down into the ground, smoke trailing from a variety of wounds. I can’t say the sight of it doesn’t fill me with a mixture of emotions, the first of those is vengeance for the downing of my fellow pilots, pride in the ability and quick thinking of our troops comes a close second.

From my vantage point it looked like a slaughtered bird, letting out various groaning sounds that I could only assume were its systems and power plant failing before the walker’s shattered body gave up and went limp, fluids and gases venting from its cracked armour like blood.

The loss of the walker took the fight out of the PHR troops who turned tail and ran for it…towards the building I was hiding in. Broken or not they spotted me soon enough and a hail of gunfire was spattering all around my vantage point within moments. Abandoning my vantage point I ran back into the building, looking for the nearest stair case to move higher into the structure. I dive into the stair well, my heart pounding. Below me I can hear yelling and then a flurry of gunfire. The blood rushed in my ears as I gripped my rifle tight, risking a glance over the railings to determine how much time I had.

I could feel the icy effects of panic creeping over me, threatening to drain my energy and slow me down. Evade capture, evade capture, evade captures. I repeated the mantra over and over giving me drive to move my aching muscles once more. I hit the stairs just as an explosion below shakes the building and I get knocked from my feet. I didn’t wait to find out what happened I just ran.

***

Bursting through the door to the seventh floor I darted into the nearest room and behind the first piece of cover I can find. Rifle resting on what I suspect was once a sofa, before nature claimed it, I had a perfect view of the staircase so I could cut down anyone that came after me. I clicked the selector switch from semi-automatic to full automatic as the sounds of gunfire gradually moved up the stairs. 

As the last of the gunshots rang out I screwed my eyes shut and waited for the inevitable. Who was I trying to kid? I was a pilot not a soldier and I didn’t stand a chance against a single PHR ground pounder let alone a squad of them. The sense of panic returned and I didn’t have the strength to fight it off. As the door slammed open I dropped down and cowered behind my makeshift barricade.

I remember the slightest tremor of heavy footsteps entering the room. It seems like an odd thing to notice now, but, back then, the headset I’d been wearing the entire time was hissing static. The shot that had caught my tunic had severed the wire from my headset to comms pack and I hadn’t even noticed. It’s funny what your mind focusses on the moment before you die. But instead of feeling the cool metal of a gun barrel against my head I feel a strong hand grip my shoulder and pull me bodily upwards. 

“Hey, get ready to move out.” The gruff voiced beyond my tightly shut eyes commanded me. My heart soared; it was a voice I recognised, or at least a dialect I recognised. Peering through flinching eyelids I was met by the glassy stare of a gruff spec-ops squad leader. He was covered head to toe in shit and gravy and looked every bit the grizzled elite soldier he truly was. I know full well I grinned at him like an idiot. At first his distaste is evident but it eventually gave way to a barely perceptible smile and points out of the window to the west. I stand up and look out. Shielding my eyes against the sun I could just make out a huddle of APCs churning up dust as they raced to reach us.

I slid to the floor and let out a sigh. I glanced at my chrono and smirked. Mission complete T plus 31 minutes.

The Spartan Age

It gives me great pleasure to present to you the first Shell Case Contributor article. So without further a do, Chris offers up his thoughts on the recent rash of news from Spartan and it’s impact on the market.

August has seen an almost volcanic explosion of exciting news from Spartan Games. To start with there has been a flurry of previews for both Firestorm Armada and Dystopian Wars. This has included a fantastic variety of new minor faction units for DW including Canadian and Indian tanks, Polish sky fortresses, Belgian land ships and Danish minelayers and destroyers. Each is a fantastically characterful and detailed model (as you would expect from Spartan) and the very existence of these models wonderfully expands the world of Dystopian Wars and really helps bring the world to life by making the game about more than the struggles of the ‘big’ nations and helping give the impression of a full, living world at war. The rules for these models should be in the Hurricane Season/Storm of Steel expansions, though I notice that these expansions are showing on the Spartan online store at a higher price than the core rulebook. I can only hope that this means they are packed full of cool rules and exciting fluff.

Meanwhile we have seen a lot of previews of new Firestorm Armada ships for the upcoming Marauders of the Rift expansion. These have included ships for a whole range of pirates, raiders, gangsters and other kinds of low life and ne’r do well as well as a very interesting prison ship design. Marauders of the Rift will be out soon and is a snip at £10 compared to the DW expansions.

But these previews, exciting though they undoubtedly are, were eclipsed by last Thursday’s announcement of Dystopian Legions, a 28mm battle game set in the world of Dystopian Wars. This came as a huge surprise to many observers, but overall the buzz on the interwebs seem to be optimistic. The previewed images look pretty impressive, especially in terms of detail and there are some very characterful designs such as the FSA tread bike and the Prussian Lucifyre walker.

Dystopian Legions could be a big hit. Victorian steampunk games are not new but most of the existing ones lean much more towards the Gothic and the macabre end of the spectrum(Empire of the Dead for example), while Dystopian Wars and Dystopian Legions are much more toward the sci-fi end. Dystopian Legions is also a full-scale battle game rather than a small-scale skirmish affair. The closest competition for Dystopian Legions are probably Warmachine (though again, that is very much towards the fantasy end of the steampunk spectrum) or something like dieselpunk war game Dust Warfare by Fantasy Flight.

When the news about Dystopian Legions broke, I immediately wondered what the chances were of a similar game being introduced for Spartan’s Firestorm Armada universe. Just a few hours later the Spartan announced the formation of their Studio Sparta subsidiary and their Firestorm Invasion project.

While one certainly wonders why this project has been assigned to a subsidiary – and we all have to wonder if Studio Sparta will turn out to be Spartan’s Forgeworld, or their Fanatic Press – this is certainly going to be an ambitious project, and certainly the one I am most excited about. Simultaneously developing 10mm, 15mm and 28mm games including all the assorted factions of the Firestorm universe is an enormous project and one I sincerely hope Spartan Games/Studio Sparta are up to. So far all we have seen images of are them ideals from the Dindrenzi and Terran 10mm starter sets which are already available from Studio Sparta’s online store, plus a few previews of 15mm Terran infantry. The previewed models so far are a fairly limited selection, but what we have seen so far looks pretty good.

I find it interesting, that stuff for Firestorm Invasion – Planetfall is already available, in contrast to the Dystopian Legions announced the same day which are still some months hence. Perhaps this is the advantage of having a separate division working on the project or maybe a cunning way of helping the new division make a splash from the get go.

Spartan are certainly throwing down the gauntlet with Firestorm Invasion. Each sub-game (10mm Planetfall, 15mm Conquest, and 28mm Special Ops will be competing with other manufacturers. Special Ops for example will have to contend with both Warhammer 40,000 and Warpath (and also to a lesser extent, Warmachine) although as Spec Ops will be skirmish focussed it may escape direct competition from 40k.

Planetfall however will taking on the recently released Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames for the lions share of the 10mm market. Somehow I doubt it is coincidental that this particular 10mm game has been launched so soon after the other, especially as 10mm is a relatively little used scale. Maybe the hype surrounding Dropzone Commander proved that there is a market out there. Certainly, the fact that Planetfall has been released with no lead up and only a very limited model range could be taken as signs that Spartan is jumping on a bandwagon. Though realistically, even Spartan can’t conjure a project like this out of nothing, so even is they have opted to accelerate plans they must have had the foundations of this laid for some time. The fact that Hawk are currently struggling to meet demand while also maintaining their quality control is as good an example as any about how you shouldn’t overreach or rush into anything in this industry.

It would be difficult to judge which of the two games might come out on top. Spartan has the advantage of lower prices and having the rule book included with the starter forces, but Hawk has the benefit of a much more comprehensive range of models being available across four distinct factions and a separately available rule book. The rulebook will be available separately in the near future for Firestorm Invasion but for now it’s only available in the starter sets. And there’s certainly an advantage to being able to see if you like the look/sound of the game without having to invest in a full starter set.

A lot of people are likely to hold off on Firestorm Invasion until they know when their favourite factions from Firestorm Armada will come out. Hawk, on the other hand, have everything from the rule book already for sale. However in light of the severe supply problems, unfair pricing strategy and keeping the bigger army deals exclusive to the Hawk website it’ll be interesting to see which game ends up on top. And while Hawk models are more expensive, they are made from a more flexible resin mix which mean they will stand up to wear and tear better and in theory makes them better value for money. Whether that counts as a deal maker or breaker probably comes down to personal preference.

Anyway, the news over the last few weeks show that Spartan are clearly a company with big ambitions and the potential to make good on them. I’m looking forward to adding some Firestorm Invasion stuff to my collection come pay-day. With luck I’ll eventually be able to carry through a campaign with my Terrans (and their allies) from the orbital battles all the way to the final ground campaigns and decisive city fights.

The Hawk and The Spartan

It’s been an interesting few days in the world of wargaming. The launch of Studio Sparta and the release of Firestorm: Invasion was very exciting news but also very interesting in terms of the wargaming landscape with how this news impacts on the growth of Dropzone Commander by Hawk Wargames. Allow me to paint you a word picture.

Dave Lewis use to work for Spartan Games. He left and founded Hawk Wargames and developed Dropzone Commander. Dropzone Commander is released to an eager world and Hawk Wargames promptly runs out of stock because, from what I’ve been told, only produced enough models to sort out those who ordered direct, not via retailers.

At present the average wait for UK retailers is around 4 weeks. My sources tell me that some international stockists are only just getting their original orders. Another source tells me that once overseas retailers had placed their orders they were forbidden from changing them other than to reduce the number of rulebooks they wanted or increase the overall order. Not to reduce or to cancel. This also comes with a very damning piece of news – and this is a verified source which shall remain anonymous – retailers are only allowed to undercut Hawk Wargames by 10%. Anything more and they won’t be allowed to sell the products.

So supply problems and price-fixing. It doesn’t paint the rosiest of pictures. I’m of the opinion that retailers should be allowed to charge what they like for a product as they have already invested capital to buy it. If you over charge no one buys it and you’re a retard if you do. Under charge and you will shift volume at the cost of margin. However, more at less margin still beats less at a slightly higher margin. Basic economics.

Price fixing benefits no one as the cost price stays the same. Yes retailers, in theory, maintain higher margins which is good for profits but when you go out at the same price as everyone else then you make it harder for the customer to spend their money because they’re looking for that USP (unique selling point) – usually a price, a promotion or something that sets one retailer apart from another.

Now, in a high street it’s not such a scrum as if you only have one independent retailer locally (I have…zero locally) then that’s where you go to buy your toys. Go online, however, and you have dozens to choose from, eCommerce is an incredibly tough market because just about anyone can get a website built. But because they’re all selling out at the same price and are all having the same supply problems there’s no competition. As a customer I ask myself; if no one’s got stock nor can do me a deal then what’s the rush?

Then there’s the price of the models themselves. Having spoken to Dave I understand that the resin he uses is expensive because of its detail and durability. He’s quality assurance is second to none. He’s also not dealing in the volumes that other companies do, at the moment. But I also know the margins. But anyway, the point is this; a starter deal is £68. Plus rules. Plus faction cards.

This week, as I mentioned, saw the unveiling of Firestorm Invasion by Studio Sparta. A 10mm sci-fi wargame with lots of lovely tanks and exosuits and even fast movers. I wouldn’t say that the models are as detailed as the Dropzone Commander range but they’re detailed enough that you can paint them, they’ll look good and you can actually play a fecking game.

It’s also set in an established IP which is on top of looking awesome and the starter army is a stonking £23 cheaper and includes rules and faction cards and dice. It’s tough not to have your head turned when you can confidently order from Spartan and know you’ll get your new toys in the same month you paid for them.

It’s a risky time for Hawk. Although launch was a success, the supply troubles that have dogged it ever since is burning good will quicker than it can cast models. And no matter how many times we’re told they’re working at full capacity it doesn’t change the fact that customers are waiting for an expensive product with something similar dangling in front of their noses for an initial investment £44 less than Dropzone Commander.

I really like Dropzone Commander and it’s a game I want to collect. But, in light of the seemingly endless problems, coupled with a pricing strategy that smacks of an arrogance belonging to a far larger organisation I can see a lot of customers being put off. And with cheaper alternatives like Invasion and the utterly fantastic Gruntz (which, granted is 15mm) they’d be forgiven for going elsewhere.

It’s going to be interesting to see what happens next but if I’m honest I think I’m going to have to get my hands on Invasion before I get my PHR army for Dropzone Commander. Especially since seeing this ace post from Pins of War.

Dropzone Comander – The Full Review

That’s right, it’s finally that time. I didn’t want to rush this as I’d already been lucky enough to play test the game and had penned a first look review that can be found here.

So for those that have been living in a cave/under a rock/on Mars/in the long lost city of Atlantis (delete as appropriate), Dropzone Commander is a 10mm sci-fi game set in the distant future in which humanity has been forced to abandon Earth and her core colonies (known as the Cradle Worlds) after an alien race known as The Scourge invades.

Skip forward a couple of centuries and humanity is ready for some payback. Add into the mix the mysterious Shaltari and the Post Human Republic – a human faction that heeded the warning of the Scourge’s coming from an advanced alien device and fled to a distant world only to return altered. And quite frankly; bad ass. So four factions, all with their own agendas and kick ass cool model range; sounds like a ball game to me.

Which actually is the first big fat skyscraper sized tick in the box which is fluff. Lots and lots of lovely juicy fluff to give your factions a unique feel to go with their unique look, plus that all important reason all the arse kickery. Which, to be honest, can really lack in a few games I’ve looked at in the past.

So on to the aforementioned arse kickery. The thing that makes Dropzone Commander rather special is that it’s emphasis on combined arms. Dropzone Commander’s force organisation is built around battle groups starting with a dropship and working its way down. The idea is a simple one and grounded in modern warfare; armies are made up of smaller, better trained, units that require rapid redeployment to deal with the constantly changing tides of battle.

Although there’s no shortage of sci-fi games availabke, there hasn’t been one that so actively encourages the use of infantry, armour and aircraft so completely. The downside with this is that ground units are relatively slow and rely heavily on dropships which means that if they all get blown up you’re pretty much buggered. This is both good and bad as hunting dropships with gunships and fast movers is an easily exploitable tactic but encourages players to structure their army around mutual support.

The rules themselves are familiar enough, their influences easy to spot. However rather than alternating turns it alternates activations which, for gamers familiar with the likes of 40k and Warhammer, will be an odd. What makes a gaming nuance a genuine tactical twist is the fact that each activation activates the entire battlegroup, not just the one unit. As I mentioned in my first look review, this can, and probably will, lead to you forgetting to move models in the battlegroup if they are spread out across the board. But that’s more gamers having to keep their eye on the prize than the rule being broken.

The activations themselves allow you perform two actions rather than a prescribed series of actions. Again this adds a tactical flare which means that units in the open can fire then bugger off behind cover which is very cinematic, makes complete sense and makes that initiative role so important as it’s the difference between a daring move paying off or your take unit getting blown to tin foil because they got caught in the street.

All units have weapons assigned to them as part of their profile. I’ve heard some people grumble about this but at the end of the day, it’s a 10mm game, there’s feck all point in getting too fiddly when there’s plenty of other fiddly bits to remember. The weapons follow a fairly standard format – energy verses armour, the number of shot and accuracy. There’s also two range bands. Full range and countered range.

The idea is this – full range is the range of the weapon (obviously) the other is the diminished range when shooting at a model with active counter measures. It’s a nice idea but if I’m honest, I’m not a fan. Active counter measures are things like targeting jammers and the like that interfere with systems or the projectiles themselves. There’s also passive counter measures which are things like shields or short-range point defence. The thing is when your enemy invents a jammer you invent a jammer jammer. And active counter measures just doesn’t explain away the time-honoured tradition of pointing a gun in the vague direction of the target and just pulling the trigger.

It’s not that the rule doesn’t work, I just think a penalty to hit for active counter measures would have been a more elegant rule, especially as passive counter measures is, effectively, an armour save. But as everything except lovely squishy infantry has (at least) active counter measures it’s actually a bit pointless and you may as well just have long and short-range.

But there are a lot of rules in Dropzone Commander. Aside from the 16 different clarifications for terrain/scenery, there’s also 5 building types, each with 3 subclasses and 15 special rules just for weapons. It’s a lot to remember, made harder because special rules are usually abbreviated so you’ll be getting plenty of use out of your book looking them up. It’s on the hand a fantastic level of detail meaning you can create any gaming board you can dream of and all your units will be individual but my concern is it’ll impact on the flow of the game until you’re really familiar with them.

These grumbles aside the mechanics work well and the emphasis is on rolling fistfuls of dice and blowing things to buggery. Which is always a win. And yet another tactical layer is the fact that, for the most part, ground units can’t shoot air units and vice versa. There are anti-air units but these can’t target ground units. Again units performing very specific combat roles and encourages you to take a balanced force – although does rail road you into always taking certain unit types to cover your arse rather than what you’d like to take. Although this isn’t dissimilar from having to take a HQ choice and two troop choices in 40k.

The final piece of the tactical puzzle is infantry. Hawk Wargames has placed a high premium on the most vulnerable units in the game and challenges the gamer to not only keep them alive in their almost as vulnerable bullet magnets but to use them to capture buildings and, more importantly, hold objectives. This means, of course, that you can blow up buildings which is fun, albeit time-consuming. Buildings can take a lot of punishment and although this is representative, it’s a little too representative. Your infantry will be crushed by falling masonry (yes it’s a rule) long before the building comes crashing down. Which is a bit disappointing.

The other side of it is CQB which is utterly brutal. It’s a nice set or rules and will result in fist-fulls of dice being rolled and infantry bases being returned to figure cases in droves there’s just a lot of stages to it, at least on paper, but once you’re familiar with it, it flows very well. It suffers a bit from being totally different from the rest of the game and the change in pace is noticeable but again this is more because to begin with there’s rule checking. I’ve read the rule twice and I still don’t fully understand when the combat is actually initiated. This said, when we tested CQB it seemed to happen very fast and people got manged so that has to be a good thing.

The DzC rulebook is also crammed full of lovely scenarios and complete army lists for the four factions so for slightly more money than Dystopian Wars you get a stronger rule set that’s laid out in a sensible fashion (although I would have had flyer moves in with movement) that looks gorgeous, has all the faction army lists and scenarios, all in one book, rather than having to spend more money than the rule book faction specific scenarios. This is better.

Dropzone Commander is very good. It presents tactical challenges across all levels of the game, right down to not only how you move a unit but how you move a battlegroup, in what order and which actions are carried out first. As I said in my original post, it’s a lot like chess in that you always have to be thinking about the move two moves away. And you always, always, have to keep your eye on the prize as your force is far too dependent on each other to win the game if you’ve taken heavy losses.

It’s a beautifully put together book with lovingly written background. The sheer amount of effort that went into this game and the sheer excellence of the models means you have to forgive it the odd obsessive rule. My few gripes aren’t enough to put me off the game at all as it’s overall a very solid, very well thought out rule set with a robust concept behind it. And I have every intention of collecting a PHR army (to start with) just as soon as I can.

Shell Case Shorts 8

August. Who’d have thought I’d manage to keep this competition going this long. It of course wouldn’t be possible were it not for you lovely readers entering and those lovely people donating prizes. And this month’s prize is the tits. It’s nothing less than a signed copy of Dropzone Commander from Hawk Wargames.

This month the entries must be from a science fiction wargame in honour of this top prize. Steampunk isn’t included I’m afraid, sorry.

So what do you have to do to win this rather large slice of awesomeness? Well, I’m glad you asked…

Rules are as follows:

Your work is your own but intellectual property rests squarely with the companies in question and is only used under fair use. I reserve the right to publish any submissions in a strictly non-profit capacity. All published writers will be credited accordingly.

Submissions should attempt to evoke the IP the story is based on.

Short story entries word limit should be 3,000-4,000 words.

All entries must be received by midnight UK time Friday 31st August 2012 after which a single winner will be chosen. Submissions received after this will not be considered.

1 submission per person.

Work believed to be plagiarised will be disqualified.

All submissions must be sent as a Word document attached to an email to theshellcase@hotmail.co.uk

[Any spam from entrants will result in disqualification]

Submissions must include the entrants name, a contact email address, Twitter name if applicable and the title of the story.

1 winner will be chosen and notified by email.

The winning entry will be published initially on The Shell Case blog and later in a free to download anthology.

No discussion will be entered into, my decision is final.

The prize may not be exchanged for its cash value or an alternative. However, I reserve the right to substitute the prize if necessary.

Good luck and have fun!

Sponsored by

Dropzone Commander News & Downloads

Not only is today The Shell Case’s birthday but Dropzone Commander, by Hawk Wargames, ships to an eager wargaming community. When I wrote my first look post a month ago I’d just played the game with the fine chaps from 6inch Move and the rules were still in the process of being set. Now it’s done, dusted and looking, frankly, the tits.

And as a little treat Dave has released a few free downloads but first a few words from the man himself…

It’s been a long road and a long wait, but at last Dropzone Commander is escaping into the wild! First off, I’d like to thank those who pre-ordered products and all those who’ve been patient with me in particular. It’s been a very tough month which has demanded a whole new level of exertion from all of us!

It’s been 2 years and 8 months since I first put pen to paper and I’m excited to finally be able to let DZC loose. We’ve given it absolutely everything we could and I hope that you’ll feel that our efforts and your patience have been well worth it!


Stock going out today!

Aside from this, we also have several other pieces of news:

1) Downloadable Buildings now available!
Structures are important in games of DZC and we appreciate that many players don’t have a large stock of buildings already in place, especially in 10mm scale. We felt that for a new game the cost and availability of scenery should not be either a barrier to entry or to playing the game as it was meant to be played. As such, we’ve created a vast selection of self-print buildings available for you to download and build at home which are absolutely free!
Our Downloadable Buildings are totally accurate in scale, and are cross-compatible with all our future scenery lines. This means you’ll be able to add detailed resin accents to these buildings, use resin lobbies and card upper stories – anything you want!
We’ve been working hard to ensure that these downloads are available from day one, giving all our players an extremely low-cost scenery option from the start. We hope you have fun building a few of these, and using them in your early games of Dropzone Commander!


Here’s a few I made earlier – don’t worry, you won’t need this many!

2) Token sheet downloads now available:
While DZC does not rely heavily on the use of tokens, some are always useful. The general token sheet is available in print form in the back of the rulebook, but has also been made available online to provide an easy print option. We will be producing physical tokens, but in the meantime these should serve you well.

We’ve also included a set of Carriage Tokens for each race except for the Shaltari, who don’t need them. These aren’t mentioned in the book since they’re not officially required. Their purpose is to indicate a dropship’s content easily, making it simple to remember what is carrying what (especially when you’re not yet familiar with your army!). Simply cut them out including the slot running to the centre, which allows them to slide onto the dropship’s flying base.

3) Other gaming aid downloads now available:
We’ve produced a quick reference sheet for all the general use tables in the rulebook. We hope you’ll find it useful during games! We’ve also released a quick prompt guide to The Turn Sequence.

4) New product photos:
Product photos have now been added to the Hawk Wargames website for the Rulebook, Command Cards and for the Starter Army retail boxes.


Products not to scale

5) Facebook Live Chat 02/08/2012:
Since the last Facebook Live Chat was such a success, I’ve decided to run another on Thursday, August 2nd. Just as last time, I will be on Facebook from 9am to 9pm GMT, hopefully giving most people a window in which to chat and ask questions. With a brand new ruleset and range I’m sure there be lots to discuss! In addition to this, I’ll be on Facebook frequently in the next few weeks and will of course be able to answer questions outside the Live Chat.

6) The Hawk Widget:
We’ve added an extra component to all our kits which use flying bases! It’s a small, injection moulded, non-brittle clear acrylic part which can be glued to the resin hull (but NOT the flying base) of all our aerial units. This piece tightly holds the main stem of the flying base when in use through friction, preventing the dreaded wobble during games. Once you’ve finished playing, simply remove the flying base and store separately in transit. This makes it much easier to store and transport your models (all our custom cut KR cases feature spaces for detached flying bases).

Please bear in mind that these are small, clear components which are packaged loose inside blisters and bagged with flying bases – be careful not to lose them!

7) Demand and Stock Levels:
The response to Dropzone Commander so far has been fantastic, and well beyond our initial estimations. We are working as hard as we can to keep up with demand, and are currently in the process of upgrading our tooling to double the rate of production. In the short-term we feel we should make new customers aware that it may take a short while to fulfil new orders in the next few weeks while we undertake this transition. As such, we have updated the product descriptions on our site to state this.

8) In-store availability:
We fully intend to make Dropzone Commander widely available in stores as fast as humanly possible. With the pressure of the expansion (not to mention getting everything ready on time!) we simply haven’t had the time to organise and coordinate a formal in-store release date.

Shipments to our distributors will leave us on Friday 27th, and should begin arriving in stores at the start of August. We will be able to deal with stores direct as soon as our production rate increase is complete (we are currently waiting on the arrival of new equipment which is due by the end of the month).
In the meantime, we thank stores for bearing with us, and will be prioritising and covering the needs of those who have already contacted us as soon as we can.

I hope you all enjoy your products!

- Dave

Dropzone Commander downloads: