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!

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!

Wargaming Week 10/06/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering the 3rd through to the 9th of June.

NEWS

First up in news, Empress has continued its modern day releases by bringing out a set of brand new elements for the Ultramodern Russian range. As well as the mortar team to bring them to parity with the other nations, there is also a tactical drone team (similar to the British one) and a two pack of EOD and signaller. The final pack is perfect for giving your forces an AT/AA capability, adding a MANPAD system as well as the RPG-29, an AT system designed for knocking out the more heavily armoured weapon systems on the battlefield. Much like the releases last week, this set are bringing the Empress ranges kicking and screaming into a situation where they can be used for a larger scale of battle.

Also released this week by Empress was a pair of head packs which was very much a case of “something old, something new”. The Germans have got their older pattern of helmet, the classic PASGAT style seen in use from the German plains to Afghanistan itself. The style of G36 would not technically be correct for earlier operations in Afghan but at 3ft away, you can easily use them for German forces in ISAF.

The “something new” is for the British! They are getting the new helmet which came as part of the Virtus program, letting you bring your guys up to 2019 standards. The common thing with both is just how much a slight change in equipment can change your troops look.

MDF wise, we are looking at another fantastic looking release. If you ever wanted to re-enact Blackhawk Down, this 28mm version of the Olympic Hotel looks like a great starting point. The building is packed full of rooms, staircases and other nasty places to get stuck into a firefight in. Someone on the Spectre Wargaming group has actually built it up and it looks like a battlefield all to itself.

Tiny Terrain has some more news on it’s T62. It seems like it’s almost time to start parting money with them. At the time of writing…

Checks newspaper

It’s OUT BUY BUY BUY.

Finally, Spectre is on a roll with their new releases. This week, we have the Contractor Operators that were previewed a few weeks back. Rolling with tiny chest rigs and some modern gucci weapons, this is a set is exactly the sort of thing I love – figures that could be used for all sorts of factions and settings. There are also some great details on them, making each operator look individual but also part of the same unit.

PURCHASES

Contractors. Looks like Argo are getting another strike team. Maybe even hired to hunt down a certain SAS team…

Also super late, literally as I was heading to bed, I grabbed a pair of T62s. Looks like we are going to have some armoured battles on the plains of Bazistan!

HOBBY

Painting front, finished off my two little MAARS drone from Spectre. “Remote Two” and “Frontline Unit” will soon be on the battlefield taking the strain and laying down the hate. With all the drones done, I now just have to finish the operators (which I got a big chunk done on) and then we shall have a new post covering the UAV/UGV range.

I also managed to assembled and glue together the first of my Black Site Studios buildings after dry fitting it last week. I have to say, very impressed with it and all the details (the rolling door is fantastic). The pre-painted is probably good enough for most people but I think I’m going to use it as a base and repaint as well as adding texture.


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

Wargaming Week 03/05/2019

Let’s start this Wargaming Week, covering… a long time.

BLOG STUFF

A new post went up last week! The battle report I played before I disappeared away to the US was a rather fantastic little game of Spectre Operations that did not immediately start off with a raging firefight. On the other hand, it shouldn’t have taken me three weeks to get it written up – however, on checking my stats it has already done really well.

In bigger news, I’m back! My three weeks in the States was incredibly exciting (I don’t travel very much so even just going there was a massive change) and between the sitting in air-conditioned offices for meetings, I did manage to get out and explore the local area. Something I was very keen to go and do (and fitting for this blog) was hit the gun range and try out a few weapons. I quite enjoyed shooting as an Air Cadet and going again confirmed that if I had the opportunity, I would have another hobby to make me incredibly poor.

NEWS

Oh boy, don’t go away for three weeks without doing news posts.

First up – previews. Spectre has been showing off the workbench and we have some teases for what’s coming next. Including these construction helmets. Looking at them, they seem to be the 3d prints Spectre uses for its hard items when sculpting figures. If I’m going to guess what they are for, I’d probably say some new criminals (ideal for every 1980’s action film). That said, they could at the same time be for some civilian models inspired by the White Helmets although I think this is less likely. Either way, I’m looking forward to them.

Preview Two is showing off some new support for the Insurgent Kill Team that was released last year. The Squad pack only included assault rifles and carbines which is okay for a light team but a little more firepower is needed. As futuristic as the bullpup PKM is, there are multiple images of them in use with various forces from Syria to Yemen. The backpack ammo feed is a nice touch.

Good news for everyone who missed Spectre at Salute – the objectives packs are now released! These packs of resin are perfect for making your missions about more than just taking the question mark token, giving your missions much more of an interesting feel to them. Additionally, I can see the weapon boxes being really handy for adding details to vehicles.

More exciting for me is the fact the minivan is now available! Ideal for adding civilian vehicles or infiltrating your operators into the AO, this vehicle adds so much to the tabletop.

Empress is also on the release train, this time adding some more support weapons to the French forces. Giving you a few extra items for engaging the enemy, the AT4 and Minimi should be handy. In addition, there are also some fancy berets now available for some variation.

Additionally, the Chinese PLA also got some more support weapons. Giving you everything from squad LMGs to automatic high explosive grenade launchers, these packs are perfect for giving your forces a little more punch. I’m a fan of the sniper especially – I can see him being pretty fun to paint.

On the terrain front, Knights of dice have been steadily adding to the modern apartment sets. They are now up to five models of them, ideal for adding some height and complex interiors to the modern battlefield. I’m very interested in picking them up for the inevitable “board full of buildings” and they will be perfect for creating strongpoints and focusing the action. Also, everyone loves some room clearing.

Speaking of Knights of Dice, Shiny Games now have the Tabula Rasa Villas in stock. These are going to be perfect bases for a modern MENA building, something a little different from the usual adobes. I can see using these in the middle of small compounds, something a little more challenging to assault than the stuff on the street.

Sarissa has also been cranking out some modern items, ideal for ultramodern games. Some of these come from a pack they released for Warlord’s zombie game Project Z, the secured compound. This is now available piecemeal, as well as a few additional items like security barriers. I haven’t pick any up yet but I’m keeping a close eye on it.

Additionally, Sarissa has shown off a new terrain system. Coming as MDF pieces with irregular cuts on the side, these can be arranged to build up play areas before being re-arranged. Some part of me sees this as just dumb, a way of locking yourself into a system of MDF buying. One the other hand, the idea of building up a load of pieces of terrains on bases, creating little dioramas and maybe having them on display is a neat idea.

Heading out of wargames for a moment, let’s talk about Call of Duty. I make no attempt to hide the fact that videogames and Call of Duty especially was a massive inspiration for my wargaming – one of the scenarios I wrote for Plausible Deniability was a reinterpretation of a certain boat related mission from Call of Duty 4.

The trailer above makes me INCREDIBLY excited. As much as I have enjoyed other Call of Duty settings, there is something about going back to the modern day that just makes me feel like I’m seeing the Call of Duty 4 trailer all over again. I can see a purchase of this in October and PLENTY of inspiration to pull from it.

PURCHASES

First up, upon getting back to the UK I picked up the Knights of Dice releases from Shiny Games. Those villias look like a perfect addition to my “board of buildings” project, as well some more unique buildings to use as target locations. I can forsee a lot of spray painting in my future.

I also hit up Spectre. With the release of the Minivan, I added a second one to my collection letting me add some more to the battlefield or to transport more sneaky chaps into action. I’m looking forward to the look on my opponents faces when two of them appear and drop off two teams of operators around a HVT. For more overt transport, I also picked up at a second LTV to let a full squad move in mine protected comfort. I also grabbed some replacement trash bags and cardboard boxes – just before finding the ones I thought I had lost. So extra scatter!

HOBBY

First of all, new arrivals! The Black Site Studios pre-order I had with Spectre finally arrived while I was away and so I eagerly got into it when I grabbed it from work. Initial impressions were – Holy **** that’s a lot of MDF.

I did manage to sit down and break out the dry fitting fun to put one of the smaller buildings together. So far I’m very impressed, and I can’t wait to assemble more. Now, where did I put that glue…


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