I’ll admit, when they announced that Spectre were running a gaming weekend in Cardiff I had tons of questions. What was it going to be like? What figures did I need to bring? Were the other Spectre players going to turn out to be tournament mad points fans? Would I find somewhere sensible to stay? Is driving to the other end of the country really worth it to play a wargame? Having got back from it and had some to think and decompress, I think it was one of the best wargaming experiences I’ve ever had.
The weekend began on Friday with me driving 9 hours from Edinburgh to get to Cardiff (mostly in the rain) and then checking into the nicest Youth Hostel I’ve ever seen. The rest of the evening was full of drinks, curry and some good chat with everyone before we eventually managed to grab some shut-eye.
Saturday started with all of us heading to the venue for the event. Now, when it was announced we were going to Cardiff to play Spectre, I think a lot of people (except those in Bristol and other places close by) found it pretty inconvenient due to the fact it wasn’t a more central location like London or Birmingham. However, after seeing Firestorm I can easily see why I’d found myself in Wales. It’s a fantastic place, with a huge space for boards, a nice casual area for card games or grabbing lunch, a bar serving both food and beer and a massive shop packed full of stuff (I had to prevent myself from being tempted into picking all sort of goodies from the well stocked shelves). Most importantly for anyone who likes taking photos of wargames or has ever served their time at the King and Queen in Brighton, it is very well-lit!
The gallery above is of all the board layouts that were in place at the start of Day 1. The terrain was from a mixture of sources – several tables were filled with stuff from Darren’s rather excellent collection while a few near the front had items brought by the Spectre team themselves. This included some new terrain items in the shape of some resin pallets and brick walls. I am a huge fan of those walls and will be on them like a shot when they come out.
The rest of the boards showed off the terrain available at Firestorm. As you can see in the picture above, the entire back wall is full with shelves for terrain for everything from fantasy to modern batman-esque games to the far future.
Of course, the main reason for being there was not to marvel at the venue but to get some games in! There were a selection being run, from a two day multi-game boot camp for two players (Mike and Si) who had never tried the game before to a four player game that a whole family were taking part in. Due to the number of people who were there and the varying experience levels, I ended up being matched against Craig “Tiny Terrain” for most of my games. He was a great opponent in all the games we played and I’m looking forward to the next time we get to play against each other.
Before I cover the fighting, I should mention a little bit about how the games were organised. The Spectre team had brought down almost all of their painted models in perhaps the biggest figure case I had ever seen. People wishing to run games had free rein to select figures from this box (or bring out whatever they had brought down themselves) and set up the scenarios how they wished. It was great to have the rules writers to hand while playing, answering all those minor questions and suggesting little tweaks to play around with. Thanks to JT, Matt, Ivan and Stephen for answering all the random queries throughout the weekend.
Anyway, enough introductions, time to get into the meat of the event – the battle reports! The italicised introductions are just some scene setting on my part but the rest of the action was entirely down to the dice and our choices as players. Just so this post isn’t a ridiculous long one, I’ve split most of the battle reports off into separate posts linked below. Each one starts and ends with a link back to hear to make reading easier.
Bazistan: During operations, a US Army UH-60 Blackhawk has been shot down in the old town of Bazi City. Observers have spotted two casualties attempting to extracte themselves from the wreckage. Needing to secure the site, Coalition command has deployed a French SF team to the Old Town to capture and defend the area from the Militia. However, this is the Militia’s home turf and they know that the enemy are coming. Will the French be able to hold the crash site long enough to treat the wounded?
Val Verde: A team of deniable operatives working for a Cartel is closing in on a facility owned by their rival. Their aim? To take out El Jefe while he is out in the open. Two problems: El Jefe has surrounded himself with some Bad Hombres and worse, the team don’t know exactly what the target looks like. Will El Jefe be able to escape?
As Game 2 ended, the staff from Firestorm were coming along to gently shepard the gamers out the door. After packing up my gear and taking it back to the hostel, the plan was to then head into town for a quiet drink. However, a pretty intense day of wargaming had drained us of any desire to go anywhere, so we grabbed a few beers, ordered pizza in the hotel lobby, had a casual chat and then went off for an early night, drifting to sleep to the sound of 101 hen/stag parties heading out into Cardiff.
As Day 2 started (after a minor delay), the Spectre team also got to pull out some previews of what is coming next. As well as mentioning the releases that came out on Monday (more veteran militia) and showing off the fully painted SF Technical with a mounted minigun that had previously been spotted speeding round the board during Operation Razor Strike (and is due out THE WEEKEND THIS POST APPEARS possibly), some greens (the final sculpted product ready to be sent off for casting) were also shown. I’m pretty excited for these; they included two female Task Force Operators, equipped with all the latest gear, and a small group of more tactical looking OPFOR with better equipment than usual (such as soft caps, chest rigs & tactical AKs). Fans of certain middling history channel tv shows may spot some of the inspiration behind them. It’s always fascinating to see what’s coming next, especially before it’s cast in metal and still fresh from the sculptor’s touch. We also got to hear about some things that are planned for the future. I’ll be keeping quiet on them for now but it’s obvious we’ll be seeing cool things from the team at Spectre for quite a while.
Of course, the real reason we were there was to get some more games in and so the battle reports carry on!
Jazan, Bazistan: an Emir in charge of one of the Bazi Militia is heading home after a meeting. The convoy is powerful force, thanks in part to the backing of the Argo Corporation. What the Emir doesn’t know is that the Russian GRU have issued a capture order on him and he is about to roll into a trap. Will the GRU be able to capture their prey?
Off the coast of Val Verde, two cartel lieutenants are meeting about this month’s pay with the gold bars sitting on the meeting room table. The two groups are enjoying the delights of a pleasure yacht. Unfortunately, their partying and lax attitudes to sentry duty has allowed a small team of operators to sneak on board. Splitting into two groups, they set off to do perform a HVT extract on the high seas. Will they be able to grab the targets?
After putting the dice down on the last game, it was almost time for the event to finish. Several people had already headed off (a minor downside of running an event on a Sunday) leaving only one table still active – a real clash of companies as Spectre and Warmill fought over a battlefield filled with some rather nice looking mansions that Warmill are working on. The Cartel put up a hard fight but it looked like the Operators were seconds away from snatching the target. As the day finished, we packed up what was left, said our goodbyes and then headed back to our various homes. Luckily my journey was split with a quick trip home (and a chance to check on my WIP demo boards) and so I didn’t have to do the full 9 hours on Sunday.
Having now had a chance to sit back and think about the weekend, its safe to say that I had an exceptionally good time, creating a very nice end to my summer break. The chance to head out and get some really solid games in against opponents other than my regular ones was great.
I think one of my main thoughts from the entire weekend is this – there is no better way to really see a set of wargame rules then to play it solidly for two days. I have had some little misgivings about Spectre Operations for a while, little things that were hard to quantify but meant it didn’t flow as well as it should have done. Having taken part in four quite varied games over the weekend it’s safe the say the misgivings are gone; they were probably caused by still being a little unfamiliar with bits of the rules that frequent play would have removed. Spectre Operations is something pretty special; lightweight enough to get anyone into it but still with a level of detail and realism that makes it not just feel like a reskin of Warhammer but more like something closer to the modern battlefield. The guys behind it know it has a few places that need tweaking (I’ll stop banging on about the vehicle rules at some point) and are also looking for ways to expand it, to polish off the rougher edges and make it better and better.
It’s also still incredible how wargaming brings so many types of people together while still keeping them civil. Throughout the weekend, I don’t think I ever heard anyone getting annoyed at each other. Any rules disagreements were swiftly settled by either a GM or the roll of a dice. As befitting the rules, no one appeared to be a try-hard, too focused on winning at all costs rather than enjoying and playing the scenario. There were plenty of people over the weekend who had never played Spectre before and I think all of them left with a smile on their face and chatting about the events of their games. Overall, it was just a really pleasant time.
To wrap up, this weekend was fantastic. Good gameplay, some fun times hanging out with friends and a chance to get all the toys from Spectre off the shelf. Yes, Cardiff was a long way but if you told me they were doing it again next year I’d be getting my booking in faster than a team of Elites would rampage through a small force of Militia.
Maybe I should talk to a friend about setting up something Spectre Operations in the north…