Impressions: Black Site Studios – War Zone Arabia

As a man with a sizeable collection of unpainted MDF, making it tabletop ready requires a big chunk of time and special techniques to get it ready for the tabletop. Between getting the right texture on and making sure the Agrax is deployed enough without bankrupting you, it does all build up. So the idea of purchasing pre-painted MDF can be pretty attractive.

There are a few companies doing it but the selection for gaming in the Middle East or North Africa is pretty limited. Luckily, Black Site Studios in the US have kicked off their War Zone Arabia range, bringing a load of buildings to fit the Middle Eastern zone. Spectre Miniatures were offering a pre-order on their products in the UK for a limited time and I just had to pick up a trio to try out.

First of all, let’s talk the basics. All the buildings arrive in a mixture of MDF and greyboard, laser-cut into pieces and ready to be popped from the sprue. Most of the building Sprue removed was relatively easy, although I did find a good few cases where some clean-up had to be done after removing from the sprue. Overall the kits all feel very nicely designed and well manufactured.

Instructions are available from the Black Site Studios website and are simple and easy to assemble. As with all MDF buildings, I really recommend dry-fitting everything, making sure they fit properly before applying the glue. There were some really snug fits, especially with the interior and exterior walls being separate pieces and needing to fit together. In a few cases, a little bit of percussive construction assistance was used just to make it all fit. However, aside from one piece seeming to need to be reversed, everything fitted together well, with tools only needed for a little bit of clean up. On the other hand, I need to stress that you should definitely read the instructions – I ended up skipping the outer decorative pieces when assembling the largest building and ended up unable to assemble them as intended (as you can see in the picture at the top).

For all the positives I do have to give a warning about the staircases. They are a monster to assemble, requiring the lining up of several steps and their locator pins between two outer pieces. I assembled three sets in the course of these buildings and each one was incredibly annoying. Additionally, the steps seem to be designed for figures mounted to penny bases, with incredibly small gaps between them. For everyone else, you either let the figures slip and slide or else just make sure people stand at the top and bottom of the staircases.


The first building I constructed is the Abboud Trading Company. The smallest of the buildings available, the building is a perfect store for your MENA street. With a roll-up door over a wide entrance, it’s easy to picture it being rolled up as the day starts, various goods waiting inside to be bought and sold. Alternatively, this may be where the HVT goes to ground, operators moving up to breach through the door and drag them out.

Around the back, you can see an additional entry, making the building perfect to fight through and presenting a challenge when defending. Additionally, the low walls on the partially assembled roof leads to some interesting fighting positions.

As you can see inside, there is a serving counter between the main door and the roll-up access. There is enough space to roll in a vehicle, letting you use this as a handy garage to hide key objectives in. Additionally, there is plenty of space inside for players to move around and actually fight, even on standard-sized 25mm bases. This is a common theme across all the buildings I noticed.


The next set is Turhan Imports. A single large room with staircase access to the roof, this building actually works really great when sat next to the trading company or assembled into a small compound. A big feature of this building is the cracked plaster on the other walls, the cream coloured greyboard placed over pale MDF brickwork. I think it works really well, especially from tabletop height.

At the rear, you can see one of those dammed staircases I mentioned further up. As you can see in the breakdown below, this piece is separate, letting you replace it with a ladder if you want to adjust the look. One thing I will mention is the piece of plaster you can see on the staircase. These pieces were not on the instructions, perfect for making each building look different. I think this is especially important if you were running multiple buildings on the same board.

Broken apart, you can see the building is a single large room. One trend through all of these is that the buildings ask for plenty of interior elements, a scattering of tables, sofas and chairs ready to be flipped for cover when people breach and clear.


Finally, lets take a look at the Temara Safehouse. And Oh Boy.

This building is huge. Like, seriously huge. With a footprint of over 1′ x 1′, you could very easily use this building as a game board all by itself. With multiple entry points, access to both floors and interior rooms, this is an assaulter’s nightmare.

As you can see on the other side, there are plenty of access and firing points to utilise. You can also see some of the incredibly nice detail work that is a stand out element of these kits. From the windows to the guard rail around the roof, these buildings definitely feel the part while also definitely being different from the rough adobes that are the go-to for the Middle East.

Now, this really is the money shot. By taking the building apart you can see just how much space for activities there are inside. Three rooms on the ground floor with two more above gives you plenty of spaces to sweep and clear. In addition, you can see the first floor has two staircases to allow access. Overall, this is one hell of an addition to any terrain range.


Overall, I am very impressed with the Black Site Studios buildings. Ignoring the fact the design of these constructions filled my brain with thoughts of Insurgency Sandstorm’s urban conflict zones, there are plenty of really nicely designed bits to them. Each building feels evocative, both fitting the range but also feeling something unique. I’m also a fan of them being very playable – opening doors, sensible access to all the rooms and space to move through, rather than just cramming figures in. The variety through the three buildings is also pretty spectacular – I’d love to see where else this range could go.

Am I going to throw all my unpainted buildings aware and swear only to buy prepainted? Honestly, no. I think these do an excellent job of letting you get past the painting stage and ready for the table, but I think I’ll be going back and painting these. It really comes down to two things – texture and me being a cack-handed fool. Spray-on texture just makes the MDF pop while a good paint job helps to cover up places where I made a mistake during assembly or let the glue on fingertips attach themselves to the greyboard. However, if this doesn’t interest you (or you can assemble them without being a moron) then I think these buildings are a fantastic purchase.

Now someone stop me before I buy all the compound walls I can cover myself in…

Wargaming Week 15/07/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering the 8th through to the 13th of July.

BLOG STUFF

Last week was my holiday so there are lots of things in progress but not much actually finished. I took some time to myself to plan and write for both this site and the Patreon.

I’m currently writing up some details on the Aden Defence Force, in particular their squad composition. If you want more details when they are ready, they will be on the Patreon first (before being mentioned here).

NEWS

I wasn’t on the news beat this week but this piece grabbed my attention. A brand new rulset, Contact Front, coming soon and focusing on the conflict in Afghanistan. From reading the intro piece, it reminds me a lot of Fighting Season, with a focus on blending the platoon level action with greater consequences. You can grab more details at https://godseyegames.com/2019/07/08/gods-eye-games-to-publish-contact-front/

PURCHASES

No purchases, still looking at the pile of stuff in front of me.

That said, I am eyeing up some more KR Multicases for carrying all my models around, letting me put them away rather than sitting on every flat surface in my house.

HOBBY

I only got to finish one set of painting but it felt really satisfying to get them done. The six Contractor Operator folks and the Baba Yaga are now ready for the tabletop and (more importantly) to getting them all written up and posted here!


That’s it for this update, expect more updates next week!

Wargaming Week 08/07/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering the 1st through to the 7th of July.

BLOG STUFF

I launched my Patreon project! More details in the post I published on Thursday but basically, I’m turning my scenarios and world building into something more suitable for release to the general public. I’m really excited about this, especially with the back and forth I’d love to happen with the Patron model.

If you’re interested in joining the patreon, click the button below!

Become a Patron!

There is also a post coming looking at the Black Site Studios terrain. Photos are all taken, I just need to get the written side finished with my thoughts.

NEWS

Other than I started a Patreon for my Sourcebook project? Well, there are a few things.

Empress are releasing a 1/50 M113 all ready for their Vietnam range. Coming with both the .50cal turret and the ACAV weapon mounts, the vehicle is perfect for rolling around Indochina. I’m very interested in picking some up for more modern shenanigans, as M113s are still in use everywhere.

Delta One Zero are showing off some more figures from their upcoming game. These guys are some really cool looking models, perfect for what appears to be some team on team games. I’m a big fan of the look of the SAS guys, being very reminiscent of one of my favourite games. More news on this coming soon.

PURCHASES

Nothing new hobby wise, not finishing things mean

HOBBY

Not a huge amount done as I was getting ready for my holiday (which I am currently on) but did get a start on my Spectre Contractor Ops team. A few common basic colours on, I’ll be doing the rest this week while I’m on my break. Definitely going with the Dad Contractor look – tan trousers, coloured shirts, black webbing. Should be a nice contrast from the Tier 1 guys.

Holiday times means a break and I have brought a few toys down with me. Time to break out the WW2 English Uniform and the mud effect…


That’s it for this update, expect more updates next week!

News – Sourcebook Patreon

Well, it’s time to kick this project off.

For the last three years, I’ve been busy working on crafting wargames scenarios and systems for ultramodern wargaming. As part of this, I’ve built up a collection of writings, most of which is ready for the gaming table but not quite yet to actually show the general public. Everything from Special Forces raids to counter-insurgency missions to full frontal platoon level engagements, they all sit inside my Google Drive.

I have also loved setting up the fictional world featuring Bazistan, creating an imagi-nation that I feel is ripe for wargaming any number of scenarios and situations. Creating nations also lets me act super nerdy, creating logic for equipment choices and overall doctrine to be used in skirmish wargaming. Again, also sat in my Google Drive.

So for this reason, I’ve decided to start turning them into something a little more suitable. Almost like the sourcebooks for D&D, this is going to be a sourcebook for taking part in the fictional world that is maybe two steps away from our own.

My dream for this is to create something almost like an Osprey reference guide to the fictional nations, something you pour over and see the different forces involved in them. The scenarios and force lists are designed to be system agnostic, while also covering larger formations rather than simply focusing just on the fireteam level.

Because the project is going to be taking a long time, I’ve decided to create a patreon to help fund it. As well as helping me to put some time aside for it (and motivation), funds will start going into a pot to let me start to make it look good – pictures are worth 1000 words and a good quality map can help make scenarios much easier to understand. Additionally, it would be perfect to include some example soldiers.

Another side of using Patreon means there can be some back and forth, letting you give you impressions of pieces as they come out. I’ve done a chunk of reading but still feedback is a great help.

If you’re interested, I’ve added a button below to access the patreon at https://www.patreon.com/ChargeBlog . There is no minimum pledge, no tiers to decide among – just chip in however much you want and

Become a Patron!

I’m really excited about this project and I’m looking forward to everyone’s comments and feedback as we move through this project. I’ve also got several other locations on the list so maybe once this is over, I can start taking a look at other locations and their conflicts.

Wargaming Week 01/07/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering the 24th through to the 30th of June.

NEWS

No news! Seems like everyone is away on holiday so the wargames market has calmed down a little bit.

PURCHASES

Nothing wargaming related! Still looking at the pile of stuff I need to paint and assemble.

However, I did pick up two new releases from Osprey. “Armies of Russia’s War in Ukraine” looks like a handy primer for the situation in Ukraine while “The Australian Army at War 1976–2016” is another book from Leigh Neville (always a sign of quality) and covers the Aussies from Vietnam up to the modern day. I’m saving both for me week off but I’m really looking forward to both.

HOBBY

This week has been all about MDF buildings! I’ve been working my way through the Black Site Studios buildings. First up, we have the Turhan Imports build which is a nice, sensible addition to any ultramodern table top.

And then we have the Temara Safehouse, which is a massive building which is basically a board in itself and perfect for doing some proper CQB fighting.

More details on both (and the Abboud Trading Company) coming soon!


That’s it for this update, expect more updates next week!

Wargaming Week 17/06/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering the 10th through to the 16th of June.

BLOG STUFF

New post this week (only just) looking at the Drone systems from Spectre Miniatures. I think none of these are required to play ultramodern wargames but having them lets you expand out what you can get up, giving you more options on the table top when building you scenarios.

NEWS

It was E3 so lots of gaming news. However, ultramodern wargaming wise, things are pretty quiet… For now.

PURCHASES

No purchases for wargaming this week – I’ve been upgrading my PC and then getting ready for my 1:1 scale wargaming event next weekend and so needed to get ready to operate. More details on all of that stuff next week!

HOBBY

Painting! First of all, I finished off the two drone operators this week. First of all the Tier 1 operator – I love these guys, especially because the painting is always so easy with the single block colours. In addition, I really like the details on him, and getting them picked out is always fun.

Similarly, painting up the insurgent drone operator was also pretty quick, ideal with plenty of block colours. This also another figure that I managed to crank out while at work.

Finally, I’ve started digging through the big pile of MDF I have and began building them. First up is Sally 4th’s airport. This is a wonderful little kit, slightly delayed due to missing a few pieces (probably during some move with them). However, replacements are on the way. At the same time, I’m already looking at some other elements, just to get the board full of buildings ready to go.


That’s it for this update, expect more updates next week!

Impressions: Spectre Miniatures Drone Systems

Ultramodern war, especially in the last few years, has been marked with several iconic items. MRAPs, quad eye NVGS, the list of equipment that screams out this current time period. But I think the one that a lot of people think of has to be the unmaned vehicles. Be it an off the shelf quad copter carrying a frag grenade up to the Predator drones hovering over the battlefield, the robot is starting to take the strain.

So naturally, it was only right for Spectre to include rules and figures for them in their range. The figures were released back in October and have been sitting on my painting bench for a while, looking rather annoyed at me as I got distracted by other things. However, I have finally set it right and they are now ready for the table. So let’s take a look!

Quadcopters

Let’s start on the small side with the quadcopters. Both of these drones are pretty much designed to be man-portable surveillance devices, able to nip up and grab the higher ground. Spectre has produced two versions, each coming in the box with one of the operators.

The common thread is that these things are tiny. Single pieces of metal with intricate detail that would be very easy to lose if left outside of their containers so I don’t recommend magnetising these. Additionally, both sit upon flight stands, using the items bought from Spectre themselves. The bases look like their normal plastic bases with a hole drilled in the centre to attach a plastic rod through. For the small drones, I decided to clip the rod in half to let it sit a little lower and less likely to topple over from errant hands and arms. Painting wise was also pretty simple. Black undercoat, white spray over, nuln oil to pick out the details. Anything else would, in my opinion, just be excessive.

Also, these things are a pain in the ass to photo.

Out of the two, the Tier 1 drone is the more elegant and sleek. It’s almost a racing drone, tiny body and four propeller assemblies; it looks like it could be easily held in a pouch before deploying it. Actually, it’s very Ghost Recon-esque, which is perfect for the Tier 1 guys.

The insurgent drone, on the other hand, is a slightly larger model. It looks a lot more like a commercial drone, complete with gimballed camera underneath. It definitely fits their look and feel. The camera also provides a nice surface for mounting the flight stand.

Puma UAV

Of course, sometimes you need a drone with a little more loiter time. This is where the Puma comes in. Easily transportable via vehicle, deployable by a man running with it once the engine has started, the Puma can loiter above the battlefield for 2 hours, deploying a multi-role camera to send back information to the operator.

As a model, it’s a single piece of resin. There was a little bit to clean up and had to straighten the wings a tiny bit with some hot water but otherwise, it was simply a case of sticking it to the flight stand and it was ready to go! Alternatively, you could just mount it in the back of your vehicles to have it stowed. Again same paint job as the smaller drone (black -> white -> nuln oil) – it really helps to pick out the panel details. I also glued it on at a slight angle, making it look like it’s in the middle of a pylon turn.

MAARS Robot

I’ve wanted these guys for far too long. Maybe I need to blame Medal of Honour Warfighter, where you got to drive one of these through some ruined buildings in Somalia, or maybe I just like making the Robot take the strain. The MAARS is an unmanned ground vehicle, similar to a bomb disposal bot but mounting a set of weapon systems (an M240 MMG and quad M203s), providing a remote controlled fire support platform with none of the bitching an infantryman carrying this setup would provide.

Assembly was pretty simple (you can see it better in the unpainted image above). Most important thing is to dry fit every step of the way. In addition, take care with the belt feed for the M240 – I managed to lose it for one of my drones somewhere during assembly.

Drone Operators

Of course, you’ll be needing someone to control your drones. Some can be controlled from off-board but it’s always handy to have a controller on hand at close range, ideal for reacting much faster than their off-board counterpart. Something I love about both of these controller is how useful they can be – as well as controlling drones, they could be pressed into service as JTACs to bring in your off-board support or as hackers to fit the Specialist role mentioned in the new rulebook.

The Tier 1 Operator is modelled knelt, with his control unit in hand. I do really like the whole setup, from the baseball cap/headphones combo, the aerial on his back and even just the pose. Weapon wise, the Tier 1 operator continues that ranges use of the SIG MCX, except this time going for the Rattler, the tiny Personal Defence Weapon version of it.

Again as a contrast, the Insurgent drone control is seated on the phone while tapping away on his laptop. The civilian garb and rucksack I think will make him very useful for a variety of roles – I can definitely see him hitting the board a lot. On the other hand, he is lacking a weapon, so he may need a minder to keep him safe.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I think that drones add a brand new element that is unique to modern wargaming. Spectre’s releases so far provide a very nice starting point. Obviously, I’d love to see operators for some of the other ranges (a Nomad operator would be especially cool). But more importantly, just having them available at all means you can get interesting tactical situations setup and on the board, using the intelligence gathering (or even the offensive) capability to provide support to your forces. Overall, these are definitely some elements to pick up.