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Castle Ravenloft Painting Guide

Castle RavenloftCastle Ravenloft is a fantastic ‘dungeoncrawling’ boardgame from Wizards of the Coast, the makers of the iconic fantasy role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons. It uses a very clever and elegantly simple ‘artifical intelligence’ system to control the monsters that your characters will encounter. Players, as fantasy adventurers, work together to explore the dungeon and achieve different objectives, depending on the scenario.

The most impressive thing that will greet you when you first open the box is 40 fantastically detailed plastic miniatures. Of course you can enjoy games of Castle Ravenloft straight away, but it really comes to life when you take the time and effort to paint these figures and make them look their best. It may seem a daunting task but actually it’s quite easy to get impressive results—especially if you use this article as your guide!

Now, as usual with all these painting guides, these are just my personal colour schemes, and you can paint your figures any way you like. I actually don’t enjoy coming up with original colour schemes much, so I tend to lean heavily on publisher’s painted examples or other gamers’ photos on places like BoardgameGeek for inspiration. But there’s an infinite number of ways to paint your figures, so get creative!

(Click on the following images if you’d like to see larger versions, and use your browser’s ‘back’ button to return. Colours referred to are Games Workshop colours, but other manufacturers make good paints too.)

Castle Ravenloft characters

First, the characters! Here you can, from left, the Dwarf Cleric, the Human Rogue, the Dragonborn Fighter, the Human Ranger, and the Eldarin Wizard. I’ve taken photos of the front and back of these figures so you can see everything. They’ll probably take you the longest to paint because of the different colours and detail, but as player figures you want them to have the best paint jobs anyway! I paint my base colours, wash with Games Workshop’s wonderful Devlan Mud wash (Gryphonne Sepia for flesh tones), then highlight.

Castle Ravenloft Spiders

On to the monsters! Starting off with those evergreen favourites, the giant spiders and the rat swarms. The red markings on the spider abdomens are a bit of homage to the Australian redback spider. Mostly however, these are just base colours with a bit of drybrushing (remove most of the paint from the brush by wiping it on a paper towel, then draw the brush across the raised areas of the figure). They take no time at all to do.

Castle Ravenloft Kobolds

Kobolds have been a D&D staple since the earliest days, and here’s a few skirmishers led by a sorceror. They’re a basic brown with Chainmail armour and Blood Red tunics. Devlan Mud works well on metallic colours to make it look a little rusty and oily as well as shade it.

Castle Ravenloft Undead

What’s a dungeon without a few moanin’ and groanin’ undead? Three zombies and three ghouls are featured above. GW’s Rotting Flesh is the colour of choice here, wth some Graveyard Earth mixed in for the ghouls. Liberal splatterings of Red Gore complete the picture of horror!

Castle Ravenloft Wolves

These wolves have found their way into the dungeons of Castle Ravenloft, accompanied by a werewolf. Easy drybrushing brings out the detail in the fur.

Castle Ravenloft Skeletons

Some classic skeletons, along with something new—blazing skeletons. The skeletons are Bleached Bone, highlighted with white. The blazing skeleton figures actually come in clear blue plastic, but I decided to wash the flame areas with Asurmen Blue wash, then highlight them for a ‘magical flame’ effect. Then I picked out and painted the sketon figure normally.

Castle Ravenloft Ghosts

A howling hag and three wraiths. The latter I left unpainted as I liked the clear effect, but I painted the bases by stippling layers of grey on them. By the way, all the other bases have some sand stuck to them with PVA glue, which is then drybrushed from a dark grey base up to white.

Castle Ravenloft Gargoyles

These stone gargoyles were easy to paint—pretty much all drybrushed in shades of grey, with some small painted white highlights. When painting red eyes, add a tiny glint of white to bring them alive!

Castle Ravenloft Golem

Now we’re getting to the real heavy hitters: an horrific flesh golem and a terrible zombie dragon. There’s only one of each of these figures but the photos for these (and the dracolich below) show both sides. Again, washes are your friend here to really pick out all the lovely detail. When highlighting, pick out the lower edges of gashes and stitches to make them pop (urgh!) A bit of red wash in the wounds also works well. These look complicated but actually didn’t take too long to do; you can be quite quick and ‘painterly’ in your highlighting with big figures like this, just work your way up through a few shades, getting lighter as you go.

Castle Ravenloft Dragon

The pièce de résistance of the set: the dracolich, Gravestorm. He’s huge and ’orrible, but pretty easy to paint. I decided to make him all ‘fresh’ looking, but other painters have made his flesh all grey and ancient-looking. A base coat of Bleached Bone for the bone areas, then Dwarven Flesh on the fleshy bits. Lots of red washes did the trick here, then sharp highlights to make the fleshy bits look glossy. He’s covered with blood, so you can be sloppy with your painting!

Count StrahdAnd finally here’s the Count himself, Strahd von Zarovich (shown both sides). He’s the (anti) hero of the game, so spend a little extra time on him!

Castle Ravenloft was an instant hit with gamers and a sequel was released hard on its heels: Wrath of Ashardalon, chock-full of another 42 figures! Very soon we’ll be seeing the release of the third game in this excellent ‘D&D Adventure System Cooperative Play’ series, Legend of Drizzt. We’ll be sure to announce it here as soon as it’s available!

Earth Reborn Painting Guide

Earth Reborn Painting Guide

Earth Reborn is a fantastically detailed skirmish game set on a post-apocalyptic earth that features an incredible array of scenarios and a rich, tactical system. Like all good skirmish games, it comes with some very cool miniature figures, and like all miniature figures, they look a lot better when they’re painted! In the tradition of my Mansions of Madness Painting Guide, allow me to take you through the process of getting your plain plastic figures looking like proper post-apocalyptic warriors!

There are a couple of things about Earth Reborn that make the miniatures easier to paint, and there’s one thing that makes it a little trickier. For a start, you won’t have to worry about the usual wash-in-detergent-and-water and undercoating steps. Your figures are already primed and ready to paint, and I had no problems painting directly onto the figures. As usual, however, I did do a little clean-up with a sharp blade (watch your fingers kids!), removing a few mould lines and imperfections.

Another thing that makes the painting easier is the excellent reference material—in the Earth Reborn Scenario Book you’ll find some large illustrations that are a good guide to colour choices. I chose to follow these pretty closely, but of course you can pick any colours you’re happy with. The Mammoth Mark II has a camouflage pattern, for example, that I didn’t bother to paint on the miniature.

What makes these figures a little trickier to paint are the bases. The figures come glued to bases that already have stickers attached to them (showing the different coloured arcs for line of sight and damage). This means that you’ll either have to remove the figures from the bases before painting, or paint carefully around the feet. I originally removed the figures, but I must admit it probably would have been easier just to paint carefully near the actual sticker, because you can damage it by removing the figure if you’re not careful—and lucky!

Remember, what follows is just my personal approach to painting these miniatures! There are many different ways of painting—lots of people like painting on top of a black undercoat, for example—but I’ve found this technique gives me a nice balance between good-looking playing pieces for my games, and getting them done relatively fast so we can start playing! Some painters may choose more careful, slower techniques, and there’s no doubt these are very detailed character pieces that would benefit from that approach.

My technique, however, is based heavily around a little product from Games Workshop that pretty much changed my life when it came to painting figures faster—yes, I’m talking about that wonderful wash, Devlan Mud! I can’t tell you how much this stuff speeds up my painting. For most figures, all you have to do is paint your base colours, wash the figure in Devlan Mud, then do one or two quick highlighting passes, to get a great looking figure. The trick with Devlan Mud is, after you’ve applied it, use a dry brush to soak up any excess wash in or on the areas where you don’t want it to pool (wipe it on a piece of paper towel each time you soak up some wash). That way you have lots of control over how the shadows and detail are brought out by the wash.

Remember, check out my earlier article A Beginners Guide To Figure Painting, which covers the basics of miniature painting you need to know to get started.

So, let’s have a look at my results, which hopefully will inspire you to get these great figures painted!

Earth RebornEarth RebornFirst we have some of the Salemite figures; left to right: Professor John Kendall Jr, Jeff Keeler, Franck Einstein (groan!), and Jessica Hollister. With all of these close-up photographs the individual brushstrokes tend to stand out more, but at a normal viewing distance the highlights blend in nicely. Remember, I’m going for attractive playing pieces here, not showcase or competition paint jobs! As you can see, the Earth Reborn figures are absolutely covered in fine detail, which really benefits from a tiny brush and a steady hand at the highlighting stage. Luckily your Devlan Mud wash will have brought out all that detail and made it easy to see!

Earth RebornEarth RebornNext up we have some more Salemite faction figures: Jack Saw, Cherokee Bill, and two zombies! Yep, the Salemites are very much into re-using the dead for their own nefarious purposes, and in fact poor old Jack Saw has been dead for quite some time as well. The two zombies took a little more effort to complete, because unfortunately the cards for them (Zombie 1 and Zombie 2) are mixed up. So I went to the completely unnecessary trouble of swapping the zombies on their bases. Then I discovered that this changed the facing of the figures a bit, so I cut and shifted the heads so they were facing the right way! That explains why these zombies won’t look like the ones you get in your game, and the right-hand one is looking like a bit of a reject from Saturday Night Fever! Still, I like the results …

Earth RebornEarth RebornFinally, it’s time for the good guys, who have the biggest, baddest figure in the game—the Mammoth Mk II! The NORAD faction may seem to be badly outnumbered, but nothing is quite what it seems in this game as there are traitors around every corner …

With our giant robot is Colonel Nick Bolter, Lieutenant Monica Vasquez, and Agent James Woo. I gave Bolter and the Mammoth the same base colour so they go together nicely. Woo has a pretty sharp metallic-and-grey look happening, and Vasquez is in no-nonsense browns.

The Mammoth may look like a slightly daunting figure to paint, but the same techniques apply. A thin coat of GW Dheneb Stone, and some Chainmail on the machine parts, all washed with Devlan Mud. Then I went carefully over the miniature with two stages of highlighting. For machines like this ‘edge highlighting’ is particularly effective. With a tiny brush just highlight the edges of all the shapes, imagining a light source shining down from above the miniature as a guide. Don’t forget to highlight the bottom of those little battle damage scars, it really brings them out and gives the robot that ‘in the wars’ feel. The Devlan Mud wash I left pretty rough on this figure, as it nicely represented the oily, used look I was going for with this workhorse combat robot. I bit of a black drybrush around the weapon ports adds to the effect.

The spotlights are easily done: a base blue, with a dark rim at the top, a light rim at the bottom, and a white dot at the top for a highlight and you’re done.

You’re ready for combat in the Earth Reborn! Happy painting!

Universal Head

(As always, head to my Headless Hollow site for a Earth Reborn rules summary and reference sheet. Enjoy!)

Dust Tactics Review

Dust Tactics

I finally got a chance to play the new miniatures boardgame Dust Tactics last night, and after two games, here are my impressions. The short answer? This game rocks!

Firstly, what is Dust Tactics? Well, some of you may remember a tabletop miniatures game with a sci-fi theme called AT-43. This caused a bit of a stir a few years ago as it was one of the first fully pre-painted miniatures games. The rules were relatively simple compared to venerable sci-fi game Warhammer 40,000, the miniatures were nicely sculpted and painted and ready to hit the table, and things were looking good for Rackham, the French company who had taken quite a gamble by plunging into the pre-painted world in such a big way.

Unfortunately, it didn’t take off quite as well as expected. There was an abortive distribution deal with Fantasy Flight Games, Rackam changed hands, and eventually they went under and AT-43 was pulled. While AT-43 is still my favourite miniatures game, and I made a large investment in the miniatures that will last me for many years of gaming, at the moment there are no signs of AT-43 returning to the market.

Which is a shame, but what’s it got to do with Dust Tactics? I’m glad you asked. Well, AT-43 was originally going to use the Dust licence, and be an ‘alternative WWII plus scifi and supernatural’ game based on that world, created by Italian illustrator Paolo Parente. But something happened along the line: AT-43 became far-future sci-fi (though still with a recognisable WWII feel), and Parente and his collaborators continued with their own miniatures game, which became Dust Tactics and—ironically—is now published by Fantasy Flight!

Dust Tactics Components

It’s possible that the Dust creators have learnt from the example of AT-43, because Dust Tactics releases are coming at a much slower and more careful rate. And instead of a full tabletop miniatures system, the core game is a boardgame/miniatures game hybrid. At first I thought this was a disadvantage, but after playing the game I can see that despite the very simple rules, there’s a lot of flexibility and possibilities for this game, and somehow it still manages to be ‘cinematic’ in feel despite the simplicity.

So how does it work? The key to the game is that simplicity. Games are usually played on nine terrain squares, each of which is itself divided into nine squares. Instead of using a tape measure to measure the moves of each miniature, you simply put the five man squad or robot tank in a square. Line of sight is then measured between central dots in the square, with some easy rules for soft and hard cover. When you shoot or engage in close combat, you refer to each unit’s card, which not only has a nice big picture of the relevant miniature(s), but a few lines detailing the weapons it uses, their range, how many dice they roll and how much damage they do per hit. Dice marked with hit symbols on two faces do the rest!

If it’s so simple, why is it so good? That’s the magic of gaming. It took just a few minutes to explain the rules to my friend, and after one round we were both starting to realise that the game had a lot more to it than had been immediately apparent. One of these surprising realisations is that the square movement grid, coupled with the differing abilities and specialisations of the units, gives the game an almost chess-like feel. Far from charging into conflict right away, we started identifying which of our units and which of our opponents were the long range specialists, which were especially effective at close combat, and how to avoid, or move quickly to engage, the appropriate units.

During each of your unit activations you get two actions: you can move and shoot, or shoot and move, or move twice, or shoot twice (actually shoot once and get a re-roll on misses). One of the units is a bit faster than the others, and the Allied robot tanks can jump over obstacles, so all in all movement wasn’t at all predictable, and good use of cover (you get two ammo crates for soft cover and two tank traps for hard cover) made a big difference to your long-term survival. Combat is quite deadly however, so one mistake can spell disaster! However with a healthy dollop of luck, anything can happen and the outcome was always in doubt.

But beyond all that, the game has that special something that got us laughing, cheering and most importantly, imagining the scene. On the table, a few plastic models were moving about on cardboard tiles, but it was very easy to imagine the real scene—as the Allied robot tank rumbled forward and let fly with a stream of napalm over the Germans, the German tank grabbed it with its claw, ripping its turret off while the squads let fly with laser rifles around their feet—and to me, that’s the hallmark of a great game that you are going to come back to again and again. I call it the ‘cinematic value’ of a game, and it’s there when the rules recede into the background and you feel like a movie is playing out on the table before you.

In the core game, there’s a series of eight scenarios that link together into a mini-campaign called ‘Blue Thunder’, detailing the invasion of an enemy base in Antarctica. There’s a nice range of challenges from ambushes, survival, demolition to straight-up slugfests. As you get to know your units you’ll be trying out different strategies and chosing different forces (especially armed with a few expansion units), so there’s lots of replay value even before you embark on the extra campaigns already available separately.

I highly recommend Dust Tactics. It’s the perfect game for those gamers who love miniatures wargaming but don’t have the time to get into more complex and extensive systems, but it also promises a lot for the gaming hobbyist, with two campaign expansions and several expansion tanks and squads available already. I hope this article has given you a little bit more insight into the game.

Dust Tactics is a tactical miniatures board game for 2-4 players. In an alternate 1940s reality, alien technology fuels gigantic machines of war as the forces of the Axis and Allies clash over rare mineral deposits that could inevitably decide the outcome of the war. With over 30 highly detailed miniatures, 9 double-sided terrain boards, 12 custom dice, unit cards, terrain, and plastic scenery, Dust Tactics delivers everything you need to wage battles in the world of Dust.

Game Contents:
One platoon of allies, comprised of 2 robots, 15 soldiers, and hero Captain Joseph Brown.
One platoon of the axis, comprised of 2 robots, 15 soldiers, and hero Colonel Sigred Von Thaler
4 Ammo Crates and 2 Tank Traps
9 two-sided cardboard Terrain Tiles
12 Unit cards (6 allied and 6 axis)
12 custom dice
18 two-sided Terrain Squares
Quick-start rules sheet
Blue Thunder campaign scenario booklet

Mansions of Madness Painting Guide

MoM Painting Guide

You’ve bought the game and braved the dark corridors of the Mansions of Madness; you’ve solved challenging puzzles and tracked down hidden clues—you’ve even confronted the most horrific eldritch creatures and survived with body and mind intact! But have you faced the ultimate challenge…?

Have you—painted the miniatures?

Painting the miniatures in your brand new shiny (or slimy, in this case) copy of Mansions of Madness may seem a daunting task from which only the most experienced and skilled will survive with sanity intact, but I am here as testament to the fact that it is actually not that difficult! In fact, I managed to paint the entire set of 32 investigator and monster figures in the space of one weekend and two short evening sessions. So ready your workspace, clutch for your brushes, and let me pass on the wisdom of one who has been to the Other World … and returned to tell the tale…

I won’t be covering the basics of painting miniatures here; for that information see my earlier article A Beginners Guide To Figure Painting, which covers everything about miniature painting you need to get started: preparing your workspace and figures, shading, highlighting and detailing, basing and varnishing, and various painting styles. Here we’ll be looking at my painted set of MoM figures and pointing out some colour choices and techniques. Keep in mind, of course, that these are just my choices and are in no way official—if you want a bright red shoggoth, you go right ahead! This is just the way I painted mine, and there are as many ways to paint miniatures as there are painters. Games Workshop paint colours are referred to here, but there are many other excellent brands of paints available, including Vallejo GameColor, Reaper Master Series Paints and Privateer Press Formula P3. Experiment and have fun!

Remember, prepare your figures by washing them in detergent and water to get rid of any oily residue from the moulding process; cut or file off any obvious mould lines or bits of extra plastic (watch those fingers!), and affix the miniatures to some suitable surface for ease of painting. I use long strips of foamcore to which I stick the figures with white glue. Undercoat as you see fit—I use Citadel Skull White spray. I use a white ceramic bath tile as a palette and it’s served me well for years. Completely optional but essential in my case were a couple of rainy days and some excellent BBC History podcasts to occupy the part of the brain you don’t use when you paint!

CharactersThe investigator figures were the most time-consuming step of the project, mainly due to the number of colours involved. The investigator character cards give you a guide for the basic colours used for each figure. In general, I quickly paint on the base colours, let them dry, wash (quite often Devlan Mud, though Gryphonne Sepia for flesh and the appropriate colour for greens and blues), and then highlight; first with the base colour then in progressively lighter shades—perhaps two, with a final edge highlight.

CharactersYou could use all manner of different shades for the various complexions of these characters, but I tend to stick with a blend of Dwarf Flesh and Elf Flesh for the basic skin tone, washed with Gryphonne Sepia and highlighted with Elf Flesh. The sharpest highlights—the tip of the nose and the knuckles usually—get a tiny spot of white. There are many ways to do eyes, but I don’t worry too much about perfection with such small figures. Two small dabs of black, and then two tiny dots of white on either side of the iris—usually with a tiny bit of black to clean up. The hair on these figures is the only place I’ve used the drybrushing technique; I prefer to highlight manually, but remember to mix water with your colour so it flows nicely from the brush.

For the bases, I made them a bit more interesting than basic black by stippling on a few shades of brown, from dark to light; it just adds a bit of visual texture to the base. However I didn’t worry about the monster bases, and in fact only stuck the monsters on their bases with a small dab of white glue, in case for some reason I want to interchange bases later on—for example if I choose to replace some of these figures with sculpts from other companies.

Now, on to the bad guys!

CultistsWhat would a Lovecraftian game be without some twisted degenerate Old One-worshipping cultists? I kept the basic cultists suitably drab with a dark brown cloak—Graveyard Earth mised with a bit of Chaos Black, basically—with a trim of Dheneb Stone (a steady hand and a small brush are required here, though you can touch up later). A few tiny dabs of Mithril Silver were used for their medallions, and a dab of Warlock Purple for the centre gem on their staff thingies.

ZombiesNot the most threatening bunch of zombie figures I’ve ever seen—they actually looking like they’re rather sheepishly saying “hi there”—but they’re easy to paint. Slap on some Rotting Flesh, wash with Devlan Mud, and highlight with Rotting Flesh and Skull White. In an attempt to make them a bit more scary I added a bit of Red Gore for blood splatters, plus some appropriately-named Graveyard Earth drybrushed over their feet. Dabs of Skull White for the eyes give them that dead-eye look. This shot also illustrates the importance of good figure preparation—there’s a rather obvious mould line on arm of the zombie on the left there which I should have removed before undercoating. Oh well, they’re just gaming pieces after all!

WitchesThese surprisingly modest evil witches were very easy to paint. A mixture of Dwarf Flesh and Elf Flesh for the basic skin tone, washed with Gryphonne Sepia and highlighted, and Dheneb Stone for the robes, washed with Devlan Mud and highlighted with white. A subtle drybrush of blue on the black hair makes the hair colour seem even darker. Viola! Evil 1920s temptresses!

ManiacsThese maniacs are in great poses, though I defy you to get that damn she’s a maniac, maniac I know… song from Flashdance out of your head while painting them. Simple white shirts, washed with Devlan Mud (use a brush to soak up any wash that builds up too much on the raised areas or in the crevices—always control your wash!), contrast nicely with an excessive blotch of Red Gore—and don’t forget the axes! The stain was made by dabbing on the model with the end of a Games Workshop drybrushing brush, which gives a nice stippling effect.

Cult LeadersSomeone always has to lead your cultists and who better than a cultist leader (or two). This colour scheme was nicked from the BoardgameGeek game listing photographs—always a good place to go for inspiration—and contrasts nicely with your cultist rank-and-file. Again, a simple way to get your whites whiter than white is a Skull White basecoat washed with Devlan Mud, then highlighted back up with white. Easy! The red is Blood Red, highlighted by mixing in a bit of Golden Yellow. The skulls on their belts are Bleached Bone, washed with Devlan Mud and highlighted with Bleached Bone and Skull White. The necklace medallion is Shining Gold—they are richer than your average cultist, after all.

Mi GoThese weird extra-terrestrial critters are Mi-Go, the ‘fungi from Yuggoth’, one of Lovecraft’s weirder creations (and that’s saying something). They appear to removing brains—charming—an Elf Flesh washed with Baal Red with sharp highlights of white (though perhaps brains should be grey … oh well!) The Mi-Go themselves are mostly the usual flesh mix with highlights; and I did use a bit of drybrushing on the wings, I remember. The strange masks they wear (not the most effective human disguise really) are painted with Bleached Bone.

Hounds of TindalosThe Hounds of Tindalos are immortal horrors from another angle in space, created by Frank Belknap Long, though Lovecraft mentions them in his story The Whisperer in Darkness. The base colour used is Graveyard Earth, with a wash of Devlan Mud, highlighted up to Bleached Bone. The long tongue and eye are a wonderfully contrasting Enchanted Blue, highlighted with Ice Blue and white.

ChthoniansAgain, these truly repulsive burrowing giant worm-like beasties were not actually invented by H.P. Lovecraft, but in this case Brian Lumley. The body is a mix of black and Hormagaunt Purple, the tentacles a suitably fleshy Dwarf Flesh. Reliable old Devlan Mud was used as a wash for the body, a bit of Baal Red wash for the tentacles, then highlights layered on— white added to the purple for the body, and Elf Flesh, then white, for the tentacles, right up to some big white highlights. Tiny white dots highlight the suckers. Urgh! The stone base was a simple grey up to white. Lots and lots of Gloss Varnish was used to make the nice and slimy; in fact the model on the left has a little clear blob hanging from the bottom tentacle. It’s details like that that make it all worthwhile!

ShoggothsAnd finally, the big bad shoggoths; shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us… Lovecraft would have been horrified to see his shoggoths given legs, and some gamers have chosen to pop them off and use ‘green stuff’ to putty over the gaps, but Lovecraftian accuracy doesn’t bother me so much. I used a mix of various greens and Chaos Black to get a very dark green basecoat, then highlighted up using smooth, thin strokes of various lighter shades of green. Mix in plenty of water with your paint to get a good flow from the brush, and loosen up a little; you can even use progressively smaller brushes. I kept the overall colour quite dark to contrast with the luminous eyes, which are Goblin Green with a highlight of Scorpion Green (I painted both on wet so the colours swirled together a bit) with a final dot or two of white. A generous coat of Gloss Varnish is de rigeur for your Lovecraftian protoplasmic horrors.

So there you have it! I hope this little journey through the miniatures of Mansions of Madness has not sent you gibbering and screaming into the black night. Hold on tight to that brush, it may be your last link with reality as we know it …

… and happy painting!

Universal Head

(As a last treat, check out my Headless Hollow site for a Mansions of Madness rules summary and reference sheet. Enjoy!)

Video: Dust Tactics

Dust Tactics_MPEG-4 Large

Dust Tactics is a tactical miniatures game of brutal combat for 2-4 players. Based on the popular universe created by artist Paolo Parente, Dust Tactics is set in an alternate 1940s reality in which alien technology fuels gigantic machines of war, and the world’s superpowers clash over rare mineral deposits that could ultimately decide the outcome of WWII. With over 30 highly detailed miniatures, 9 double-sided terrain boards, 12 custom dice, unit cards, terrain, and plastic scenery, Dust Tactics delivers everything you need to wage battles in the world of Dust.

Coming soon!

Game Contents:

One platoon of allies, comprised of 2 robots, 15 soldiers, and Captain Joseph Brown.

One platoon of the axis, comprised of 2 robots, 15 soldiers, and Colonel Sigred Von Thaler

4 Ammo Crates and Two Tank Traps

9 two-sided Cardboard Terrain Tiles

12 Unit Cards (6 allied and 6 axis)

12 custom dice

18 two-sided Terrain Squares


Quick-start rules

Blue Thunder campaign scenario booklet

Pre Painted Games

Miniature painting can be a time-consuming and challenging pastime, and it’s not for everyone. Luckily, there’s a growing number of games using miniatures that bring them to you pre-painted in the box (or for an additional purchase). So if you can’t be bothered spending hours hunched over little models with a paintbrush in hand, try one of these games out and enjoy the experience of gaming with painted miniatures—with no effort!

The great thing about pre-painted miniatures is that you can get them on the table and start playing a spectacular-looking game right after opening the box, but if you do like to do a bit of painting, you can add a touch of shading and highlighting to improve them even more. Check out my earlier article on miniature painting for some tips. Even the quick application of a wash can do a lot to define a figure’s detail; add a few highlights and it will look even better.

There are some great combat and adventure games that are coming out now with pre-painted miniatures. One of the most impressive is the dungeoncrawl game Claustrophobia (Asmodee, 2009). This comes with a bunch of troglodyte figures, three different sculpts of human warriors, and a fantastic demon figure. The paint jobs on these figures are really setting a new standard; they’re neatly done, and the colour choices are excellent.

Tannhauser (FFG, 2007) and its expansion Operation Novgorod is another game that comes with an impressive selection of pre-painted plastic character miniatures, and once again the quality is excellent. These miniatures really have a lot of character, from the demon-tainted Nazi Stosstruppen to the TNT-toting Corporal Tala Aponi. I recently had the opportunity to play the game with the new Fantasy Flight rules, and I can tell you the game is vastly improved and is a now really good, fast-moving combat system.

If you’re looking for the full tabletop miniatures experience but don’t have the time and inclination to do all the painting required, check out AT-43 (2006) and Confrontation (2007) by Rackham Entertainment. These sci-fi and fantasy (respectively) tabletop games use beautifully modelled miniatures that are all ready to do battle right out of the box. They can be a bit hard to find in Australia, but there’s nothing like buying a big tank for your scifi tabletop game and not having to spend ten hours or so painting the thing before using it to wipe out your opponent!

A game that’s been churning out the pre-painted figures for some time now is the Heroscape system from Hasbro. Starting with the base set, Rise of the Valkyrie (2004), there’s a mammoth range of figures available for this game, and because it incorporates all kinds of different genres and time periods, you can find everything from revolutionary war soldiers to werewolves to samurai warriors to robots. The paint jobs are generally pretty good, and there’s no lag time between buying your figures and playing a great game game (except for the time required  to set up that board of interlocking hexagons, that is). Don’t forget the various boxes available of trees, bridges, jungle terrain and of course the castle— and remember you can also get Marvel Superhero and Dungeons & Dragons variants of the system!

Some games ship with standard unpainted miniatures but then make available sets of painted ones if you don’t mind the extra expense. The Adventurers (AEG, 2009) has very characterful miniatures, and if you don’t feel like painting them, you can buy a pre-painted set direct from the publisher. The Days of Wonder game Shadows Over Camelot (2005) also has a set of pre-painted miniatures available under the product name A Company of Knights.

Wings of War (FFG, 2004) is a World War I airplane dogfighting game for which you can buy an series of really impressive pre-painted planes (along with a pile of expansions) and there are planes on the way for the WWII set, Fire From the Sky (2009), as well. There’s no doubt these planes really bring the game to a whole new level; I can’t imagine playing the game with just the original cards!

Occasionally a ‘normal’ boardgame comes with pre-painted plastic to enhance the experience. The Avalon Hill games Monsters Menace America (2005) and Betrayal at House on the Hill (2004) had some nice, simply-painted figures included. Even just a bit of colour added to the miniatures can make a huge difference to the visual appeal of a game.

Finally, no discussion of pre-painted miniatures would be complete with mentioning the behemoth that is the War of the Ring Collector’s Edition (2010). If you have the spare cash, this is the ultimate purchase for those non-painters out there. Personally, I’ve started on my original set, but the daunting task of painting all those plastic hordes is almost enough for me to thrown down brushes and just buy the Collector’s Edition … and you not only get painted figures, but a huge redesigned board, larger cards, redesigned components, and a big wooden box to store it all in.

The Nexus/FFG game Marvel Heroes (Nexus/FFG, 2006) had a nice selection of pre-painted hero figures, featuring all the Marvel favorites like the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America, and the X-Men. Privateer Press has a great giant-monsters-ravage-cities game called Monsterpocalypse (2008); it’s a collectible miniatures game, and, you guessed it, there’s no painting to do. The big feature monsters are particularly impressive, whether it’s a tentacled Lovecraftian monstrosity like Cthugrosh or the green Martian Ares mothership!

It’s out of print now, but the collectible miniatures game Dreamblade (Wizards of the Coast, 2006) had a spectacular range of really unusual pre-painted figures. It’s also a fantastic game, and it’s well-worth checking out Ebay to get yourself a starter set and some extra figures. I’ve mentioned the Mutant Chronicles Collectible Miniatures (FFG, 2008) game before, now also sadly out of print. The collectible miniatures genre is of course full of pre-painted miniatures that can be used both for the game they were designed for, and with a bit of work—maybe just a bit of re-basing—for other games too. There’s a long tradition of rebasing figures from other systems for use in Heroscape, for example. Check out D&D Miniatures, Heroclix, Horrorclix and Axis & Allies Miniatures, just to name a few, but don’t forget to check to see if your scales are compatible.

So for those of you casting longing looks at your friends with the painting chops, don’t despair! You too can have painted beasties gambolling about your tabletop, and without the long hours, bad back and failing eyesight that inevitably come with years of miniatures painting!

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit the publisher sites or BoardgameGeek ( You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for many of these games at Headless Hollow (

by Universal Head

Universal Head (, has been designing for clients across the globe for more than twenty years, and playing games for much longer than that. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent an entire year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for a computer game. In between he’s designed just about every form of visual communication: corporate identities, websites, packaging, brochures, even postage stamps. He also created the game websites and His blog site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

Fightin’ Figures

You may have gathered from the articles I’ve posted up until now that I’m not a huge fan of what are called ‘Euro’ games. Sorry about that. I’ve nothing against spending several hours hunched over a worker placement game, or a bit of area control or resource management, but to be frank, throw a few zombies with chainsaws in there or power-suited alternative-history WWII marines and I’m really a lot happier. It all depends on your personal definition of gaming fun. For me, games are all about immersion into imaginative worlds, and the laughter and groans that come with lucky dice rolls and last-minute reprieves. Many others prefer their careful long-term strategies to not be undermined by the draw of a card, and I can certainly understand that. But if you’re looking for in-depth examination of the many Euro games out there, I’m not the ideal author—even though I’ll be looking at some of these types of games in future articles.

One genre of games that does have a dominant place in my collection is the skirmish game. This kind of game is usually a two-player battle, either over tabletop terrain or on a board, between small bands of warriors. Sure, there’s a bit of strategy involved, but in general these games are about vicious combat, using your imagination, and playing out combats between figures that can sometimes turn into hilarious little stories that you remember for years. Let’s have a look at some of these games!

Again, the genre begins in a big way with Games Workshop. After the success of games like Heroquest and Space Crusade, the combats expanded onto the tabletop, and one of my personal all-time favourite combat games, Necromunda, was born. Set in the worlds of the Warhammer 40,000 sci-fi universe, Necromunda is a skirmish level tabletop combat game. Rival gangs fight it out for domination amongst the ruined buildings of the crowded ‘underhives’, vast cities in the far future. It’s a classic sci-fi bash—great figures, excellent cardboard terrain with the opportunity to scratch-build and buy more terrain setups, and even a campaign system if you want to see your gang grow and prosper over a series of battles.

Not a big sci-fi fan? Well then perhaps you’d prefer Mordheim, a very similar game in the fantasy genre of Warhammer. Gangs of humans, skaven ratmen, undead—you name it— battle in the ruins of the Empire city of Mordheim, destroyed by a warpstone meteor from the heavens.

Of course, setting up tabletop battles can require a big commitment in time and money. But fear not, there are plenty of other options for setting your little men at odds. We’ve already discussed the many combat games in the dungeon crawling genre in a previous article, but for non-dungeon skirmish gaming, some excellent games are Heroscape,  IncursionOkko: Era of the Asagiri, Mutant Chronicles, and Tannhäuser.

No overview of fun skirmish-level combat would be complete without Heroscape, the system that hit gaming in 2004 with HeroScape Master Set: Rise of the Valkyrie and since then has expanded in all directions with innumerable expansion packs, a Dungeons and Dragons variant and even a Marvel Heroes version. The great advantage of Heroscape is that it’s quick and easy to play. The figures are all pre-painted plastic, and the terrain is made of interlocking plastic hexagons—you can get castles and vegetation too—that allow for an infinite variety of scenarios and setups. Of course, all the units have special abilities, but quick reference cards and a simple basic rules system make play fast and furious. Some might call it a ‘toy’; some might think pitting samurai against giant robots is weird—but who cares what they think!

Incursion is a recent release from Grindhouse Games, a small company making a splash. In fact I helped out a bit by designing the reference sheet that comes with the game. It’s set in the currently very popular ‘weird war’ genre; an alternative-history World War II that includes sci-fi and occult elements. Incursion is set in an underground laboratory complex, where power-suited US marines battle it out against Nazi zombies, experiments-gone-wrong, and of course—good ol’ zombies. It uses an action point system similar to the classic Space Hulk, is beautifully produced, and is a lot of fun. The game uses cardboard standups, but for an extra outlay you can buy stunningly-detailed metal miniatures which improve the visual aspect of the game immeasurably.

Okko: Era of the Asagiri is another game that you can buy metal miniatures for separately. This medieval fantasy Japan combat game by Asmodee is played out on square tiles with lovely artwork on them, and the system is quite original. You roll a number of ‘inspiration dice’ each turn which have symbols on them that correspond to your different characteristics. By assigning these dice to your combatants, you can receive bonuses to your movement, attack, defense or willpower rolls; or can activate particular skills that make your characters unique. You can also place dice results in reserve on your characters, so they can activate powers or improve their defense abilities during your opponent’s turn. I highly recommend the figures; they are top-notch quality and very detailed, though probably more suitable for the experienced modellers and painters out there. And it’s good to see a theme that’s a little bit different. There’s already one expansion available and more to come.

Unfortunately it was short-lived and has since been discontinued, but FFG’s Mutant Chronicles Collectible Miniatures Game is a surprisingly good skirmish game. Set in the strange sci-fi/apocalyptic/gothic universe of the Mutant Chronicles, the game system itself works smoothly, using the core mechanic of specially marked dice. Gang recruitment is easy with a bronze-silver-gold scale of combatant power. Many people weren’t happy about the large 54mm scale of the figures and the quality of the pre-paints, but it’s still definitely worth picking up a copy of the core set and some of the figures if you’re a fan of the skirmish combat genre—and if you can find them.

Finally, Tannhäuser has recently been given a whole new lease of life since its purchase by FFG and the recent release of a brand new rulesbook. This game is also set in a ‘weird war’ universe, and one of its distinguishing features is the Pathfinder system. This a series of coloured circles printed on the large format boards that regulate combat and line of sight, speeding up play greatly. The game (and its expansion Operation Novgorod) comes with very nice pre-painted miniatures and top-quality components, and now that the new rules, which are available as a book or as a PDF download, have ironed out a few earlier issues and added an ‘overwatch’ system so players can fire in an opponent’s turn, look forward to this game getting more and more popular. Of course, there are more expansions in the works.

So if you’re like me and your game collection tends to lean on the site of colourful, thematic and imaginative games—to the possible detriment of worker placement, economics, area control and auctions—then be sure to check out some of the skirmish combat games mentioned in this article.

For more information about the games mentioned in this article, visit BoardgameGeek ( Necromunda and Mordheim are still available as Games Workshop ‘specialist’ games. You can also find rules summaries and reference sheets for all of these games at Headless Hollow (

by Universal Head

Universal Head (, has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate identities and websites, to packaging, to interactive educational modules. His personal site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.

A Beginners Guide To Figure Painting

More and more these days, boardgames come with plastic figures to enhance the game experience. Whether they’re an essential part of the game, like the armies in BattleLore, or a nice atmospheric substitute for cardboard tokens, like the characters in Middle-Earth Quest, plastic playing pieces can bring life to a game. But there really is nothing more satisfying than playing a great game with fully painted figures, and though it can seem a daunting prospect if you have no experience, this article aims to give you a few tips to get you painting those little men and making your game look as good as it possibly can.

Preparing Your Workspace
There are a few essentials you’ll need to paint figures—paint, of course, is one! I’ve used Games Workshop paints for many years and find them perfectly adequate for my needs, but there are other alternatives on the market such as Vallejo paints and the P3 range from Privateer Press. Plenty of painters will swear by their favourites, and some will use a mix of different ranges, but to start with get yourself a good selection of basic paints. Remember you don’t necessarily need a wide range of paints as you can mix colours—a little bit of colour theory will help you here, which you can easily research on the internet.

We’re not finger-painting here, so you’ll need some brushes! This is not the place to try to save money—good quality brushes will make your job immeasurably easier and more enjoyable, so get yourself a couple of good sable brushes from an art shop. The Games Workshop ones are pretty good too. You’ll be doing most of your painting with about a ‘1’ size brush, but a ‘00’ is good for details as well, and you’ll need something larger for drybrushing (you can buy a cheaper synthetic brush for this as drybrushing is hard on the bristles).

You can buy a palette to mix your colours on, but I’ve been using the same white, smooth ceramic tile I bought from a hardware store for years. Also you’ll need a little pot to keep your water in, some way to store your brushes—with the tips upright!—and I also find a few layers of paper towel useful for wiping your brushes after washing them, and wiping off excess paint. Find a table space with good lighting—you’ll need it, these figures are small—and be sure to cover your workspace with newspaper or other protection, especially if it’s the dining room table!

Preparing Your Figures
The first step when preparing your figures for painting is to have a look at them and see if they need any improvement. Sometimes a figure will have obvious mould-lines or ‘flash’, which is where the mould joined together on the figure. Whether you want to go to the trouble of removing these imperfections is up to you, but keep in mind they will become even more obvious to the eye when your figure is painted. And it’s the work of a moment, so why not make your figure worthy of all the attention you’re about to bestow upon it? Get yourself a sharp blade and/or needle file and carefully scrape or file away the offending bits. Be careful! You don’t want to get blood all over your nice new figure!

Plastic figures tend to come with a little bit of greasy residue from the mould they were popped out of—you wouldn’t notice this normally, but it can make it hard for paint to adhere to the surface. The trick is to give your figures a little scrub with a toothbrush in water and a bit of detergent. Then let the figures dry and your ready to undercoat.

Undercoating is the ‘primer’ layer of paint that is the basis for all the detail work to follow. Just like painting a room, you need to undercoat your figure first. This is a matter of personal choice—my preference is ‘old school’: I undercoat figures in white (I use Games Workshop spray white for this) because I can see the detail of the figure better, and colours go on brighter and in one layer. A lot of people these days prefer to undercoat in black, as the black ‘fills in’ any little details they might miss during the painting. You’ll have to experiment to see which method you prefer. Whether you choose black or white, make sure you spray your figures carefully, with even strokes, and outside with plenty of ventilation. Try not to breath in that paint or spray it over anything except the figures. I have an old table out in the back yard I use exclusively for spraying figures. Another good tip is not to use spray paint on a humid or wet day—this can make the paint go on in a strange way, trust me.

Time to Paint
Once your undercoat is thoroughly dry, you’re ready to start painting! This can seem daunting at first, but the only way to get better is to practice, so you have to start somewhere! The first thing to do is put your base colours on. Carefully apply your basic colours onto the figure and paint in the areas neatly. It’s often helpful to start with the ‘skin’ if there is any, and work your way ‘out’ through the layers of clothing. Detail work like belts and swords can be left until last.

If I can give you one really important tip from this entire article it is this—thin your colours! Depending on the paint, a brush-load of water to every brush-load of paint is about right. A dead giveaway of an amateur paint job is gluggy paint, filling in the fine detail of the miniature. If the paint is thinned it will flow off your brush a lot easier and with more control—several thin layers of paint are far better than one thick layer!

So what colours do you pick? Well, it’s up to you. Sometimes you’ll be painting within historical boundaries; for example, a little bit of internet research can give you the correct colours to paint the American and German forces from Memoir ’44. Other times, you might want match game illustrations of the characters, or save yourself the trouble of picking colours and use someone else’s choices (say, from a picture posted on But don’t be afraid to make your own colour selections if you want—just keep in mind that you usually want a roughly realistic look with appropriate colours, so maybe painting that Nazgul from Middle-Earth Quest a bright pink isn’t such a great idea!

There are lost of ways to paint, and you can find alternative methods on the internet, but for now I’ll take you through the system I find easiest after painting for some 25 years. The next step after the base colours is to apply shading. This has been made vastly easier by the introduction of quality washes (which you don’t have to thin, by the way), and the Games Workshop range is excellent. I use Gryphonne Sepia to wash flesh tones and Devlan Mud a lot for other areas, but you can also get more specific and use the green for greens, the red for reds etc. Experiment a little.

Washes are a fast and effective way to get the dark shadows in your figure. You might even want to stop here because a figure can look absolutely fine after having base colours and a wash applied. But if you really want to get a fantastic-looking figure, it’s time to move on to highlights.

The highlight stage really brings a figure to life. This is when you paint in the parts of your figure where, in ‘real life’, light would catch the upper folds of a cloak, or the tip of a nose, or the top of a hat. Of course our little figures are too small to have these natural highlights, so we have to exaggerate them to give the figure the impression of realism.

When choosing your highlight colour, don’t just reach for the white and mix it with your base colour. Again, this is where a bit of colour theory comes in handy. You can get different highlight effects depending on your choice of highlight colour. For example, if you have a bright green, it is best highlighted by adding yellow to the green rather than white (though you can add white if you’re starting with a duller green). Yellow is a good highlight for orange. Black can be highlighted by grey, or even blue, depending on the effect you want.

You can also try the ‘drybrushing’ technique for highlighting, and it’s especially useful when highlighting fur or hair. Get the highlight colour on your brush (use an older or cheaper brush for this) and wipe most of the paint off on a paper towel. Then gently wipe the side of the bristles over your surface repeatedly, leaving just a tiny bit of paint on the raised highlights each time. You can quickly build up a highlight without affecting the recessed areas.

You’re almost there! Now it’s time to go over your figure and fix up all those little details you missed. If you have a tiny brush and a very steady hand, you can paint the eyes black, and then either add two tiny dots of white for the whites of the eye, or dot them with white and then a dot of black for the pupil. Try not to make them look too ‘goggle-eyed’. Fine details like belts are best painted black, then painted again in brown or whatever, leaving a fine outline of black to make them stand out a bit. I use Tamiya ‘Smoke’ to paint a wash over metallics; I find it give a good, slightly oily effect to metallics.

Basing & Varnishing
You’re not quite finished yet however. Depending on the figure, you may want to paint some detail on its base. You can either paint a flat colour on the base that matches the board it will be moved on, or try a flat colour with a few ‘scrunchy’ layers of highlight using an old brush to give it a bit of texture. Or if you want to go all out you can use traditional basing techniques like glueing on sand or ‘static grass’ using white glue. If you’re using both, remember to paint and drybrush the sand before gluing on the static grass.

>Finally, you need a clear varnish to protect your hard work from the rigours of many hours of gameplay. Again, this is a matter of preference; there are both gloss and matt sprays available which give different effects. Some prefer the better protection and brightness of a gloss varnish; some the ‘realism’ and duller finish of a matt varnish. After much experimentation I’ve settled on a semi-gloss varnish available by Tamiya in small spraycan. Again, remember to spray outside and don’t breath it in!

Let your figure dry thoroughly and there you have it—a gaming piece that will give you many years of pleasure and pride!

Other Techniques
Of course, this is assuming you’re painting army or character figures like those from BattleLore or Last Night on Earth—what about the tanks from Memoir ’44 or Tide of Iron? The basic techniques outlined above are the same, though you can easily highlight with drybrushing. For some tanks, I’ve even got out my old airbrush to paint camouflage markings, which worked really well! When painting lots of figures that are the same, you can speed up the process by ‘batch painting’. Using white glue, attach five or so figures to a strip of foamcore or card and paint them in batches. Once you get into the flow of things you can paint a lot of figures quickly this way.

Your figures are ready to be brought to life—get painting!

by Universal Head.

Universal Head (, has been designing graphics from the most corporate to the most creative for more than twenty years. He’s responsible for the graphic design of several boardgames, most notably ‘Tales of the Arabian Nights’ by Z-Man Games, and once spent a year recreating the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza in 3D for the computer game ‘The Omega Stone’. In between he’s designed everything from large corporate identities and websites, to packaging, to interactive educational modules. His personal site is an obsessive repository of professionally designed rules summaries and reference sheets for popular boardgames.