[WFB] Been Painting: Von Carsteins (Middlehammer)

Better late than never, eh?

I never owned the original Vlad and Isabella models from 1994. Back when they were current, I was more of a Necrarch man (ah, the follies of youth).

They never had rules in my beloved sixth edition (although it wouldn’t be too hard to cobble together a set: they’d be ‘special’ insofar as Isabella would have a couple of Lahmian powers and Vlad would have more magic items than were strictly proper).

By the time seventh edition rolled around and gave the Von Carstein family some decent rules (finally, you could fit all of them into 2000 points, and there was none of that OH SPECIAL CHARACTERS WHAT A BEARDMONGER talk around either), I was starting to fall out of love with WFB and the models had been superseded anyway.

So, what with one thing and another, there was no need to own them. It’s only in the last year or so that the completionist’s urge has take me and I’ve felt inclined to pick them up.

It’s been a while since I last did any painting (over a year in fact – remember those Night Lords?), so the first afternoon was a leisurely “try to remember how this works” affair. Here we can see the end of an hour or so’s work.


Colours were blocked out first, to get a feel for the overall composition, with the diffuseness of my old Bleached Bone and Ghostly Grey serving as early stage highlights on skin and clothes. Mannfred’s been wheeled out to serve as a palette reference: I also took the opportunity to refresh his paint job a bit, livening up his cloak lining and looking for opportunities to put some different colours on him. The goal was to have them looking a little bit better than the rest of the army; not so amazing and modern that they stand out, but good enough that they stand close inspection.

The day after, I started in on highlights.


My old leather jacket has been pressed into service for this bit – it’s worn to an off-white around the edges, and I’m mindful that pure black doesn’t really exist out there in the world, so its combination of brown-black and damage is perfect as a reference. The heavy travelling capes worn by the Von Carsteins all have a spot of edge highlighting to weather them a bit, breaking up those large areas of black and pushing them just over the quality boundary compared to the rough and ready army at large. It’s helped Mannfred’s “two thirds black” colourscheme look a bit less tosh, too.

Finally, there are the deets. The blood on Isabella’s chalice and Vlad’s sword; the gem on the Carstein Ring; everyone’s red eyes; and a bit of black lining on Mannfred’s mouth to put some detail back in.


I’m very happy with Vlad, and… mostly happy… with Isabella. There’s some sort of casting imperfection on one of her fangs, which didn’t show up until highlighting and shading really brought it out. I’m going to leave it there, partly because eighteen year old me left a lot of mould lines and so she’ll fit in nicely with eighteen year old me’s collection, but partly because I like the idea that she wasn’t the flawless beauty the Von Carstein propaganda claims she was. Anyway, check out Vlad’s sneer. That’s worth it, right?



I’ve also livened Mannfred up a bit further with a few layers of purple and grey glaze on his sword and staff, saturating them with Dark Magic (TM). The sword looks OK, but I kinda botched the staff; there are too many layers on there now to fix it without stripping the whole model, and it looks all right. If you squint. From three feet away.

Fortunately, I’m a three-feet-away kind of painter; unfortunately, I’m all about that “bases, faces and implements” approach. Get those elements looking right and the rest is easy. Mannfred’s not quite there. At least we have some new problems with his colour scheme now…



While I was picking out eyes and teeth and so on, I also took the opportunity to doll up Clarimonde and Romuald in the same style. Of course, under the harsh eye of macrophotography it becomes clear that Clari’s face needs a tidy up, but the main thing I wanted to show was the edge highlighting and the gold on what was previously undifferentiated black.


All that detail work was doing my crust so I started on the other two Banshees while I was at it. Ethereal stuff makes a nice break from detail work ’cause it’s mostly just slapping glazes together and making sure they don’t go absolutely everywhere.

I wouldn’t do the bases like this if I were painting these models on their own, knowing what I know now, but if you think I’m snapping all my brittle fourteen-year-old kitbashes apart to rebase them, think again, chummy.

The odds of my using all of these together are… well, I could do it in fifth edition, if playing a three thousand point game and not needing a level five wizard to ward off High Elven superiority. I’d be more likely to do it in seventh edition, where Mannfred the Acolyte is around to offer a cheap Loremaster and Vlad is a solid generalist Vampire Lord; he’s not the best at anything except Not Dying, but that’s honestly what I look for in a general. I wouldn’t do it in eighth, I don’t think: like fifth edition, that’s a “you need a level four wizard to handle other level four wizards” deal. Maybe if I can take Count Mannfred and Vlad, but who’d let me do that? Only a yoghurt.

I think that’s an unsung strength of the King of Editions and Edition of Kings: because caster level didn’t factor into what you actually needed to roll on the dice, you could play into a fourth level wizard with only a couple of level ones and still stand a reasonable chance in the magic phase.

Of course, there are no actual rules for Vlad and Isabella in sixth edition, but that’s no problem:

Vlad and Isabella von Carstein


Vlad von Carstein has a Vampire Lord profile, and wields the Blood Drinker and Carstein Ring magic items. He also has the Call Winds, Aura of Dark Majesty and Summon Creatures of the Night Bloodline powers.


Isabella von Carstein has a Vampire Thrall profile. Her chalice counts as a Black Periapt, and she has the Walking Death and Earthbind Bloodline powers.

If Isabella dies, Vlad’s berserk temper will no longer be held in check; he becomes frenzied and is subject to hatred of the enemy army for the rest of the game. If Vlad dies, Isabella and any unit she leads automatically pass their ‘crumble’ checks, but Isabella must be removed as a casualty at the end of the game – she’ll kill herself once her fury passes.

Vlad and Isabella von Carstein must be fielded together; they use up a Lord and three Hero slots, and may be fielded in an Army of Sylvania or the Von Carstein ‘back of the book’ force. In the Army of Sylvania, Vlad counts as one of the Vampire Lords you’re allowed to field.

I’d price them at about 750 points the pair.

[40K] Eighth For Eighth – Not Dead, But Dreaming

Did you think we had forgotten? Did you think we had forgiven?

Honestly, you could be. Forgiven, that is. For thinking I’d forgotten. It’s been awfully quiet around here, and that’s because I’ve been moving house, and playing a lot of Total War, and there are kittens now, and – yeah. Excuses, excuses.

It’s also true that the shape of the project has changed slightly. There was a lot of ambitious talk about 40K and 30K, a lot of plastic flying around; a series of bargains, swaps, trades, and payments-in-kind left me with two Burning of Prospero sets and three Dark Vengeances’ worth of Chaos and another twenty-five Cultists from somewhere and –

OK, look. It was all a bit much for me, especially after I went to see Ben and Jess and, in return for workshopping her undergrad dissertation (2:1 in Theatre Studies, our girl done good), I walked away with Jess’ entire Shelf of Shame. There was a whole Chaos Space Marines army there that she’d had for years, getting as far as painting a handful of them eye-scalding orange and then leaving matters lie.

The final straw came when the new Chaos Space Marines Codex arrived, and made it clear that huge units of Cultists were a Word Bearers thing, while my Night Lords would do best with the time-honoured Multiple Small Units. That’s fine. I infinitely prefer building Multiple Small Units these days. Variety is, after all, the spice of life.

Note the MkI Land Raider on the left. I have eyed this thing covetously for years and now it’s mine, provided I actually use it and give it a good and loving home.

Once I’d Had Enough, this bounty of miniatures found itself sorted in several ways.

Firstly, those who were generic and samey and who I could not bear the thought of having to crank out, batch-style. These included the Mark IIIs (painting the same dude sixty times – retch!), the second and third Dark Vengeance batches (the first one was fun, but I’m not doing it twice over for an army that looks like computer game sprites; that’s what computer games are for!), and the rest of the Cultists (although I kept an odd five for display purposes, since I don’t like Chaos Cultists in neat, points-optimised ten man squads – outside of the game environment, anyway).

This category were boxed up ready for the next Firestorm Bring and Buy, where they were Brought and then Bought, in that order, before the first hour of the event was out. The five bright orange Chaos Marines and Defiler went the same way. I do like Defilers, but it’s a huge, unsteady model that’s a bugger to move and store and transport. Compared to the later Daemon Engines on their sensible bases (which also harmonise with the army around them better, putting everyone on the same height – I’m even putting the Land Raider on a base, for the same reason) they are showing their age, aesthetically and ergonomically.

Secondly, those who I liked but needed work. The Terminator Sorcerer, who is a great model and for whom I had the perfect conversion that I’d been wanting to do for years. The Possessed – I like them, but they’re a little bit too Chaos-grobbly for me, burdened with the kind of features that work better in isolation and contrast to a more sober model. The Chaos Space Marines. I don’t like these – they’ve dated badly, they don’t sit right next to modern greeble-tastic kits and they don’t have the charm or heft of the old metals – and had originally envisioned an army with none of them. Now I had eight or so, an awkward number since I’d rather have two squads of five or one of ten…

That’s when the madness came. I had a bunch of Forge World chainglaives lying around from the abortive 30K concept. If I acquired a bunch of Forge World helmets and chestpieces, plus some bionic legs and arms to fill out the squad (the Iron Hands pack would do nicely here), I could combine them with Possessed bits and knock together a squad or two of Night Lords who salvaged those old kits and made them look good. I’d also have some more ‘restrained’ Night Lords helmets and shoulderpads and arms to bring the Possessed back under control.

So I did.

Brother Hexendra, consulting his notes. This pose has haunted my dreams since I first saw the kit – the Chaos Sorcerer atop his outcrop, incanting his dark incantations – and he even had the perfect book holding hand thanks to the chainglaive sprues.

I don’t know what this is, but I had a broken chainglaive (Forge World compensated me by sending me a whole extra set of chainglaives, making this project possible) and that plastic Slaughterpriest and a spare Terminator shoulder pad. Things sort of happened. Those legs don’t half look like Mark V armour, or at least like they have it in their ancestry somewhere. I think he was a Space Marine once, before Khorne took an interest in him.

This chap exemplifies the approach I’ve taken with the boring Chaos Marine infantry. As an Aspiring Champion he is marked out by his bare head, exciting Possessed backpack and grobbly Chaos hand. The VIII Legion may not believe in Chaos, but Chaos believes in them – hence the ‘blimey!’ facial expression. He wasn’t expecting this.

In some editions, Chaos Champions can gain random rewards from duffing up enemies in challenges – this chap has obviously done just that, and now his lightning claw’s gone all peculiar.

(Incidentally, I do like eighth edition’s Power Points. They let me build the kind of armies I want to: rather than splitting hairs over the cost of every single upgrade, I know that a squad of five Chaos Space Marines costs this many points and can take that many special weapons or other upgrades and the Champion can have this kit and it’s all one in the end. That’s why all my Champions are grotesquely overequipped, with lightning claws and plasma pistols. In prior editions this would be a Waste of Points since they were just one wound Marines and you could get a whole extra body for the same cost as each upgrade. Now there’s an option for Borehammer players who care about that sort of thing and an option for people like me who want vaguely balanced games but also want to take interesting options without too much fretting about the opportunity cost. I draw the line at spending three extra Power Points to put two extra Cultists on the table though…)

This one was a bridge too far. I like his Bane-style mask (you’ll note an absence of topknots and huge horns on my Chaos Marines, because I think those look silly), but two grobbly mutant arms and the bionic legs? He has a plasma pistol in his left hand now, nicked off a Dark Vengeance Lord. I like to think he lost the leg in a tragic plasma backwash.

Most of my plasma gunners have bionic bits on them, for just that reason. Also, it makes them more visually distinctive, as befitting a special weapon model who’ll have attention paid to him. The Champions, likewise, have ‘open’ poses which show off the Forge World chesticles and make them stand out.

My regular Marines are… well, I did all right within the limitations of the kit. There’s a few spiky shoulderpads and sights on boltguns, but at the end of the day there’s three blokes in the traditional ‘braced to fire’ Marine pose and three blokes who are sort of posing with their boltguns, looking across them while they advance. I divide the squads up like that: Posing Squad and Shooting Squad.

Finally, there’s these knob sandwiches. I don’t know if it’s the resin casting process or if they were designed for kits with smaller chesticles or what, but fitting these arms onto those bodies was a holy terror. Also, and let me say right now that I will brook no disagreement on this point, materials which demand superglue can get in the fucking sea. Moving most of the range to plastic is the best thing GW has ever done.

With poses like this, where there are four points of contact between components and everything has to line up just so or things look stupid and painful, the instant bond of superglue is the devil’s work. No amount of dry-fitting or sneaky blu-tacking can guarantee that things will line up properly once they’re on. With poly cement you can stick or twist; you have those precious seconds of tackiness during which components can be nudged and realigned to ensure that nobody’s wrist is twisted around their arsehole. Which is what these guys are. Arseholes. Squad Arsehole.

At least they look decent now they’re done. Finished off with the garish Night Lords shoulderpads of the mid-Noughties, they still have the essential WTF quality of the Possessed, but they’re dialled back to the point where they look like dolled up gnarly Space Marines rather than the sort of “and and and SWORDS growing out of his TROUSERS” adolescent frothery that the pure Possessed kit embodies. They’re a Terror Squad now. If they’re Possessed, it’s by accident, and with all due reluctance.

[Actual Play Review] Territory Control Double Feature: Scythe (Stonemaier Games) & Rising Sun (Cool Mini Or Not)

I’m starting to get the hang of this board game business, I think – insofar as I’m starting to get a feel for what I actually like. Co-operative games will always be my preference, but if we absolutely must compete, the pure abstraction of the resource/worker placement game where everything’s different coloured cubes or discs and theme is some variant on “yer a capitalist Harry” is not for me.

I feel like I’m into a good hearty territory controller; something with the whiff of a grand strategy vidjagame such as Total War or Civilisation or Crusader Kings about it. Actually engaging in battle is optional – I like a diplomatic solution as much as the next reasonable fellow – but the theme of conquering and claiming an important patch of land speaks to the wargamer in my soul. I also appreciate actual models – they don’t have to be super-sophisticated but if you show me a cube and tell me it’s a worker I’m never going to be that interested.

Both the games I’ve tried in the last ten days, at Croydon’s Ludoquist on either side of a trip to Venice (it was superb, thanks for asking), have struck the right kind of chord in my heart. Neither is quite on Near and Far‘s level – i.e. ‘practically perfect in every way’ – but they’re both up there and they’ve helped me work some things out. They both also strike me as the sort of games it’s worth playing a lot – bedding in on and learning in greater depth than my infrequent voyages into these strange waters have afforded so far. Let’s have a natter about them.


(with thanks to Katy for these exciting action shots. they’re fine. stop worrying woman.)

Scythe is a dieselpunk extravaganza, set in a corner of Eastern Europe that never quite was and involving several factions scrambling to control a huge factory complex and the surrounding resources. You have soldiers, you have mechs, and you have a named character leader with a backstory. Aesthetically, it talks to the Iron Kingdoms fan in me, even before you factor in that one faction (the one I played) is essentially Khador.

I shan’t bother with describing the mechanics, as Stonemaier provide an excellent summary on their site. Instead, I’m going to say that Scythe is one of those rare games I wanted to play again straight away, because it feels learnable in a way that’s sort of familiar to me, probably because of how wargamey it feels. Once the basic mechanics of collecting and using resources are down there’s an immediate sense of “OK so let’s try focusing this next”.

I do have a little beef with Scythe, though.

Firstly: it does the same “draw your playstyle at random” thing Lords of Waterdeep does. It bothers me less here, because you still get to pick your faction and so you have some control over the mechanics available. Rusviets still gon’ Rusviet – they’re still going to have their teleporting trickery and their combat bonuses for workers and their ability to bully across rivers early on. It’s only the precise economy involved – which resources you’ll need to prioritise and which actions you’ll need to select – that changes, and I think that’s more like playing an unusual scenario in a wargame.

Secondly: if you’re not paying very close attention to what everyone’s doing, someone can ‘play with themselves’, ending the game by achieving a bunch of conditions with maximum efficiency and collapsing whatever you’ve spent the last twenty minutes anticipating. I grasp that that’s the point of the game, but it’s one thing to lose because your big gambit didn’t pay off and another to lose because the game ended before your turn.

Despite this, I could see myself getting into Scythe, almost as a substitute for the wargames I don’t have the luxury of playing much these days, and as something that works more smoothly as a scales-to-multiplayer endeavour. I’m going to have a poke through the strategy articles on Start Your Meeples and see how the other factions play (I don’t think “I always play Rusviet” quite aligns with board game etiquette), and then I might venture some spending money on a base set. If nothing else, it’s more likely to see use than the 40K army I started this time last year and have done next to nothing with.

Rising Sun


Rising Sun is a CMON game, so it’s going to have minis: some quite nice plastic jobs which seem to need a level of assembly. They’re one of the things I like. I’m also quite taken with the game’s alliance mechanic: each season of play opens with the opportunity to buddy up with another player, sharing bonuses on the actions you declare and allowing you to amicably resolve conflicts over territory without anyone necessarily having to die. It’s all represented on the table with some nice little yin and yang pieces that sit together, and I think it could make quite an interesting couples’ game (with the ever present option of betrayal on the cards too). Finally, it’s refreshing free of logistics; there are concerns about bringing in currency to pay for things and support one’s endeavours on the battlefield, but there’s no mucking around collected three black cubes and two red cubes before you can get a white cube. If you want to recruit some lads you play the action that lets you recruit some lads and you will get at least some lads for your trouble.

There is some gristle in the gist though. The variable turn sequence is enjoyable – being able to choose from four actions and getting to do something fun on your ally’s turn means there’s a reasonable chance of getting to do something like the thing you wanted to do. However, it is vaguely frustrating in that IF one has constructed a scheme in one’s mind AND one has a fairly inflexible core faction ability AND the right actions refuse to come up THEN you find yourself stalling for a season. With only three seasons to play through, that can spell defeat in a manner quite unsatisfactory.

Games that mutate under my hands and change the structure of the turn don’t sit well with me; I have a strong dislike for Race for the Galaxy and its variants because I’m not good at second-guessing people and rules at the same time. More serious board game people tell me this sort of thing is ‘more strategic’: I disagree. I think it spreads the strategy out differently. I personally appreciate a firm sequence of structure and play so I can concentrate on reading and predicting the opponents’ behaviour, or a firm alliance between the actual players so I can concentrate on understanding the shifting situation.

What I’m saying is: I like my strategy distributed for depth rather than breadth. I also suspect that my level of ‘spergery means I’m always going to get a bit narky at operations that change every turn unless I’m playing something like Fluxx where there’s nothing else to think about; no map placement, no alliances, just focusing on the pure flow of rules.

That said: I’d like to play Rising Sun again. Its potential for fun kingmaking alliances and bizarre gambits outweighs the minor frustration of its inconsistent structure, I think, and it’s probably another of those games that rewards a level of mastery. We certainly found that knowing the autumn card decks in advance would have given us an idea of what sort of approaches to build into during the spring and summer. Perhaps people who are more accustomed to board game conventions than I could read ahead and guess that there might be bonuses for going all in on oni or virtues or similar? I wouldn’t know. I’m still figuring out all this stuff. Where’s the tape measures and why aren’t there dice?