Wednesday 31 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games Bonus Edition! Void 1.1


I had planned on getting on with finishing off some sculpts that I've been working on this week but a pounding headache saw tools downed for the day.

It appears that I've been reading, drawing and sculpting more than usual during my hols which has resulted in brain ache but it seems to be relenting somewhat so I thought I'd add a bonus obscure game to the mix and settled on Void 1.1 originally produced by i-Kore back in 2000.

It appeared shortly after the sad demise of Warzone and had much of the team from back in the Grendel and Fantasy Forge days and from what I can gather from chatter back then, it had initially been intended to be Kryomek 2.0 but with the weird split between UK and UK ownership, we ended up with something completely different, yet at the same time familiar.

Artwork was initially supplied by Stuart Beel who had done much of the art for Warzone and I remember hearing that quite a few of the original miniatures for the human factions were leftovers from the 2nd edition of Warzone.

The setting revolves around the the uneasy alliances of the Viridians, Junkers, Syntha and policed by VASA who encounter the alien menace, the Koralon out on the frontier resulting in everyone fighting to claim worlds, defeat the alien menace and generally stabbing each other in the back.

This background is remarkably similar to the Kryomek one but instead of borrowing from the 80's sci-fi style of the Aliens movies, it went in a more anime direction. Tech is smooth and sleek, colours are bright and the rules were a lot sleeker than its ancestor.

I remember when the first release of the game came out and was basically a small rulebook and collectors magazine along with the core forces for each of the factions, several of which could be used by everyone. 

This approach was pretty brilliant as it allowed you to collect a decent range of force from the miniatures that were released and every month following, we got a new Battles With Miniatures magazine that laid out more of the background and introduced new units.

Eventually 2nd edition arrived which saw a release of proper force books with several cover illustrations by Adrian Smith, who had worked on Kryomek and Leviathan as well as going onto really develop GW's chaos look.

Similarly the rules were tweaked to encourage somewhat larger games, much like the difference between 2nd and 3rd edition 40k but not as drastic a change so instead of fielding 3-4 squads of 5-10 figures a side, we had a starter set with fifty miniatures which you could build on to create fairly large armies.

By this point, the forces that were available had really started to develop into unique factions with the Viridians riding around on dinosaurs but also having jungle commandos and elite power armour, the Junkers being a bit of a cross between Kryomek Cyclos, Mad Max and the Roman Legions and relying on sheer numbers to win the day. Syntha are high tech with lots of robotic assets, again much like the AI units in Kryomek while VASA has lots of high mobility and peacekeeper type figures as well as stompy robot suits.

The least complete force was actually the Koralon, whose sculpts were decidedly hit or miss and described in the background as sluglike. This was remedied somewhat by the redesign that Adrian Smith worked on for the Koralon forcebook which made them much more menacing and more like the Thing than had really been explored in their previous iteration.

Sadly at this point i-Kore went bust, for reasons that we don't need to go into now but would reappear a few years later as Urban Mammoth which went onto further refine the game into Urban War, a much grittier and darker version of the setting and aimed towards small scale skirmishes on a single planet.

At some point, I do think I'll take a look at it too but thats for another day as Void 1.1 has a lot of retro charm and fond memories for me as I remember playing the game at Borders Books in Edinburgh and collecting a decent sized Koralon and VASA force back in the day.

Handily Void 1.1 was initially picked up by Scotia Grendel (like so many other great games over the years) and is now being produced by SEB GAMES who have got a Void 2.0 due out soon which I look forward to seeing and are slowly gearing up to not only get the full range re-released but it looks like theres some new stuff in the pipeline too.

Now hopefully my headache will clear and I'll be able to get on with some sculpting but in the meantime, All the best!

Tuesday 30 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: World of Twilight


Today marks the end of my current run of articles on obscure games and todays is a bit of an outlier as The World of Twilight is a current game that is well supported with new releases and supplements and shows what a small, niche game can do if done well!

Twilight is without doubt the best looking and most original game I've seen in a long, long time. Started about 20 years ago by Mike Thorpe, and gradually developed through small kickstarter campaigns and a very loyal fanbase, the World of Twilight is a wonderful success story in the independent game sphere.

Through the creation of an utterly unique setting that has races of bipedal lizard like creatures who succeed in having massive amounts of character and personality in each sculpt and an ongoing and evolving setting which periodically introduces new factions, areas to explore and a stunning array of miniatures, Twilight is the sort of game I'd love to see more people trying to develop. 

Its whimsical and engaging with some dark elements such as can be seen in a Jim Henson film but isn't all grim and gritty and more importantly isn't trying to compete with the likes of GW. It is not a game of mass battles but heavily scenario driven with simple but engaging rules and each small beastie has a real personality that many of the bigger games lack.

I love the fact that Mike has developed this whole fascinating ecosystem with unique societies, races and creatures that is at once grounded and magical and he's found this wonderful little niche where folks are drawn into joining him on the adventure of exploring the world he's spent decades developing.

Sadly I must admit that despite picking up a starter set during the lockdowns, I still haven't managed to paint up what I've got and have wandered off to do my own thing which is a real shame as there's so much to explore in the world of Twilight and alongside War of Ashes Shieldbash stands as truly original and different from the vast majority of games in my collection.

There's a thriving community of players, collectors and fans of Twilight but one doesn't see much on the interwebs of it. Instead there is this great little game that has chugged along, slowly developing into what we have now with multiple factions, guidebooks and some lovely sculpts, not only of combatants but also of the civilians of the world and the wild beasts that inhabit it.

I have to admit that while putting this article together I found myself wanting to rummage out the box of unpainted lead I have in my spare room and get painting as the game is just so beautiful looking with the creator developing something that manages to avoid all the usual fantasy tropes and cliches.

The game rules themselves are easy to learn and quick to pick up and as you don't need many figures to play, its easy to get into and even if you don't end up playing, the figures are really nicely sculpted and lend themselves to painting really well too.

Looking at the rules again as well as perusing the WORLD OF TWILIGHT website I find myself drawn to the game all over again and really will need to find the figures and paint them up as its got pretty much everything I'm looking for: It's quirky, original and doesn't require a large outlay to get enough figures to play a good game. It's also fully supported and getting regular releases which is a real boon too!

If you haven't heard of the World of Twilight, I highly recommend you take a peek as its brilliantly engaging and one of the highlights of putting these articles together has been reminding me that I actually have it and the game exists and is so visually appealing.

I hope folks have enjoyed my series of articles and I think one of the things I want to do as the year goes on is to actually get some figures painted up so I can play some of them! In some cases this may be fairly straight forward as the figures are either in my collection or available to order but in others I may have to proxy stuff...

We shall see what I can do as we trundle through the year but this retrospective has been a really enjoyable process for me as it has reinforced my enjoyment of old, obscure or niche games and reinforces my decision back in the day to leave the GW hobby and going forward I suspect I'll have a lot more interesting stuff to post about as I've barely scratched the surface with my collection.

In the meantime, All the best!


Monday 29 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: Kryomek


Todays post is all about another early 90's game that is still in production but hasn't seen any developments or indeed releases in decades.

Krymomek is a game originally produced by Fantasy Forge in 1991 and is very much in the style of the Alien movie franchise.

I picked up the original rules and its supplement Hivestone from Macs Models in Edinburgh (they're their original demo copy!) and it was one of the first non GW books that made its way into my collection and its stuck with me all these years.

Setting wise, its about a human based spacefaring race that jumps into undiscovered space and finds out that they are not alone. The Kryomek are highly aggressive and a galactic war immediately breaks out with both races trying to wipe the other out.

The rules themselves are based on Stargrunt 1st edition and is aimed at the squad to platoon level with the odd vehicle. Interestingly this seems to jar with the background as its all about either mass battles between the Nexus and Kryomek or small squads infiltrating the Kryomek hives trying to locate the Hive Masters, the brain that motivates the antlike xenos.

Looking back at it, it feels like there should have been a 28mm skirmish style of game with a single squad trying to fight its way through a hive with specific objectives along the way or clearing out infestations like Space Hulk. A second, larger combined arms game in 6/10/15mm scale where you could make the most of the epic conflicts mentioned in the background. It does feel that this was designed with 40k in mind though.

I must admit that the rules themselves weren't what attracted me to Kryomek though, its the background and art. Its a hard sci-fi setting that you can totally imagine being set within the Alien universe with humans using guns and robots to take on a close combat themed enemy. The artwork is also superb, with the likes of Adrian Smith, Tony Ackland, Pete Knifton and Stephan Tappin, all ex GW artists as well as Chaz Elliot, Colin MacNeil and Bob Olley sculpting much of the range, also all ex GW sculptors.

The combination of 80's style sci-fi high tech and the grotty, lived in artwork, like the image above (which totally reminds me of a Rogue Trader pic of two renegade marines) and the fascinating pseudo military scientific report that the background is written in, Kryomek is a fascinating object.

There are only two forces in the original rules, the Nexus and the Kryomek. While the Kryomek are very much a horde type of alien menace with their forces consisting of ravenous Hellions, primitive bipedal eating machines, the Warriors, vaguely humanoid beasts with acidic blood and a variety of somatic weapons, be they single molecule blades or acid projectors. The big guys on the battlefield are snake bodied Warmasters, the driving force of the Kryomek on the battlefield.

As for the Nexus, they are split into several sub forces. There are Nexus Marines, essentially marines from Aliens with vests and guns. Next they have Nexus SWAT, power armoured and heavily armed elite troops. The final human option is the CYCLO convict troops who are used as suicide troops. The Nexus also have access to an assortment of AI units including the absolutely terrifying TALOS units and even light combat walkers.

The supplement HIVESTONE brought in Nexus Rebels, Colonial Marines, Megacorporate forces as well new Kryomek sub-strains and an assortment of bits and bobs, not to mention the much needed force lists and point costs that the original book was missing.

Its still free to download and I highly recommend folks pick up at least the PDF or the books which are also still available through Scotia Grendel.

Alas as with so many of my collection, the games creators Fantasy Forge became Grendel and went bust so the figures and game were picked up by Scotia Grendel in the UK and MSD Games in the US so while the game is technically still up and running, there is no real update on the game, be it a revised 2nd edition or supplements, new figures or whatnot.

I believe that following the demise of Warzone, John Robertson, the creator of many of the wonderful games of the 90s, Kryomek, Leviathan, Warzone and Chronopia tried to regain the rights but wasn't able to do so, possibly because of the split between UK and US companies and went on to develop VOID, which is most definitely its spiritual successor.

Kryomek has such brilliant potential but needs new miniatures as the three sculptors for the original range had such different styles that the figures don't really fit together very well. Also I'd love to see a redeveloped 2nd edition with fully playtested and revamped rules but this seems a bit unlikely.

Unlike quite a few of my games, Kryomek does seem to have a player base that is keeping it alive with a fairly active Facebook group so its well worth looking it over if you are on social media.

I'll be posting some more bits and bobs tomorrow with the last of my Obscure Games series for a while as I'm hoping to have some Leviathan stuff finished as the week goes on but its been loads of fun to post up all these lovely niche games so I suspect that I'll be posting more of them as the year goes on!

In the meantime, All the best!

Sunday 28 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: Bladestorm UPDATED!


Today sees the first day of my holiday and I'd had high hopes of getting on with my Leviathan project but I'm knackered from work so here's another ode to an obscure game: Bladestorm! (UPDATE: It appears that the Bladestorm is still available from Mirliton in Italy so the link has been added!)

I'm not sure where I originally heard of Bladestorm. Possibly it was in an old wargame magazine but I have a sneaking suspicion I stumbled upon it via The Miniatures Page's arcane list of wargame rules. It was a dark fantasy skirmish game that was published back in 1990 by Iron Crown Enterprises, a company better known for its RPG games.

Set in a far off series of islands known as the Bladelands (the reason for its name will become apparent!) the game never really took of as far as I've been able to find but has more recently been rereleased in a 2nd, updated edition.

The rules are probably somewhat further to the complex end of the scale than some of the other games I've got but ICE did a good job of breaking them down and clearly showing how they work. There is a basic, intermediate and advanced level to the game and it very much feels like a hybrid of a wargame and an rpg.

Setting wise, the islands are constantly at war and many shipwreck survivors are washed ashore adding to the mix. An unknown magical form of weather effects the land in that when battle does break out, strange elemental tornadoes can appear full of swirling blades which unsurprisingly is pretty deadly to all concerned. This leads to conflict being kept to small skirmishes between the assorted kingdoms and powers rather than massive battles.

The original boxed game had a rulebook and separate sourcebook which concentrated on breathing life into the setting and is something I'd like to see more of in skirmish wargames as its nice to have a rulebook that keeps the actual rules of play condensed into a separate book than the background gubbins which makes it easier to find the rules you are looking for.

There are multiple fantasy races, forces and places featured in the sourcebook and its actually a pretty good reference piece for anyone wanting to introduce a new location or organisation to their fantasy games. Some are a bit out there such as flying turtles with hollowed out shells for riders to hide in but they did try, and for the most part succeed in making very different feeling forces than the more typical Tolkeinesque stuff that was around at the time.

There was also a map (pictured!) and a small and rather basic guide to painting miniatures. There is a small range of figures produced by Grenadier back in the day and they're now available from MIRLITON in Italy.

The game itself is aimed at small skirmishes but can be scaled up to larger conflicts but as each character has multiple wounds and abilities, this slows things down considerably and its better at playing probably 4-5 models a side. I've actually played a few games of this back in the day and its rather a neat little system that revolves around your action points and gives a nice level of crunch and detail without being too heavy and is great for showcasing small bands of adventurers duking it out with ravening gangs of baddies.

As with many games that came out in the late 80's and early 90's the artwork varies considerably from the lovely Angus MacBride cover to the line art of the setting guide, right down to the frankly pretty awful, and for some reason massive footed interior:

I have no idea what is going on!

Saying that, if you can get past the dodgy art, the game is actually pretty good and does a good job of building the complexity level to where you are comfortable with and making for a really good narrative based game and its well worth a peek if you can find a copy. The original rules and whatnot is still available for 20 Dollars on Wargame Vault so can be downloaded and it does show up from time to time on Ebay.

Bladestorm is one of those interesting early fantasy wargames, much like D&D's Battlesystem that were an attempt at making a wargame but coming from a RPG perspective and works better as a hybrid of the two rather than one or the other.

I've got a couple more obscure games to cover but now my hols are here, I'm hoping to get some sculpting done so I'll be ending this series in the next couple of days but if you'd like to see more largely forgotten games, do feel free to give me a shout and I'll post more and if theres enough interest, I may even break some of them out to play!

In the meantime, All the best!


Saturday 27 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: Critter Commandos


A bit of a quick one this evening as I've been really busy at work in the form of Critter Commandos by Crunchy Frog Enterprises.

Produced in the US back in 2002, Critter Commandos puts you in charge of an anthropomorphic squad of troops with the sole purpose of doling out ridiculous levels of cartoon violence upon your foes, just like the classic cartoons!

I remember picking it up back in the day when I'd buy pretty much any sci-fi or fantasy wargame I could find and the cover was pretty cool and really reminded me of the Bucky O'Hare cartoon. 

The rules themselves are pretty simple and quite fun with characters having a selection of stats that most folks would be fairly familiar with, other than their wounds which are callled Holes, as in the number of holes that can be shot into them before they are taken out of action.

Coupled with cartoony weapons such as portable holes, big hammers and pies along with the more usual combat rifles and pistols, the game is decidedly tongue in cheek and while it has some interesting concepts, it feels sometimes like its leaning too heavily into the concept. Saying that, its a nice, simple game and fairly quick and easy to play.

Sadly the art from the cover and introductory comic by The Brothers Grinn isn't carried through for the rest of the interior art which is pretty ropy to say the least.

Crunchy Frog soon became Team Frog and produced a supplement called Crittertek, a spoof of Battletech that allowed you to field big stompy robots into the game. While I do have a copy of it, I've not played it but the artwork is decidedly better than the original which is a plus, with some barely concealed cartoon versions of classic Battletech mechs.

Looking at the game, it is very much an early independent sort of a beast with a concept that was there with mixed results and the core of what could be a great game, especially as you could pretty much field any anthropomorphic creature you could imagine from ants to whales and use mad weapons to blast away at similarly cartoon foes.

I can imagine the game being quite a draw for younger gamers too style wise but the rules a little bit more complex than I suspect first time gamers are used to. Possibly some sort of mashup of Critter Commando style and Song of Blades and Heroes complexity would be a more pleasing combination...

There's a bit of a background with the bad guys being the Ratzi's who wish to take over and run everything and which do remind me of the Toad Empire in Bucky o'Hare but its pretty light and there more to give you an idea of the factions you can field.

There was a miniature line released for the game but as memory serves, they were quite expensive for pretty indifferent quality figures but Team Frog does still seem to be in operation and they're available from their website. Similarly the PDF of the rules are available from Wargame Vault.

This is a game I'd love to see get a revamp and released with a newer ruleset, higher quality art and miniature range, especially if they went for a pleasingly stylised sculpt as it is a good concept that could do pretty well if handled correctly. Sadly I suspect it will stay as it is, eternal and unchanging with the times.

I am actually tempted to draw up some standees to play a mini game or two because as I already mentioned, I'm a big fan of the sort of cartoon shenanigans that the game is based on. 

Critter Commandos is a bit of an oddity in my collection but by no means unique in that I like the idea and would love to play it but the actual mechanics of getting to the point that I can with proper miniatures is probably more work than I'm willing to put into it and it may actually be better suited to the papertech approach where I pull together some quick drawings and play a game or two of cartoon super violence!

Who knows, I may even do so during my weeks hols for a bit of nostalgic fun.

In the meantime, All the best!

Friday 26 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: Kobolds and Cobblestones


As part of my obsession with niche and obscure games, I have a tendency of picking up stuff that I see that looks interesting but never sees use and todays post features a prime example: Kobolds and Cobblestones by Osprey Games!

Kobolds and Cobblestones was released back in 2018 as one of the blue Osprey Games series and created a wee bit of a stir when it was announced as it seemed like it might be a Mordheim Light sort of fantasy skirmish game with rival gangs fighting over the neutral city of Odinsport.

The art style was decidedly Discworld in style and it looked pretty awesome!

Now when the game got released it turned out to be a different beast entirely and seems to have disappeared into obscurity as there's almost nothing to be found on the interwebs for it, be it people collecting gangs or actually playing it. Interestingly this seems to be making a little bit of a comeback as there's now a few how to play guides showing up on Youtube which is handy and a bit encouraging.

The game revolves around the seven pre-generated gang bosses (including my personal favourite, Barry the Elf) in the city gathering some ruffians to go fight each other and recover the loot that the recently deceased Dwarven crimelord left hidden in cashes around the rather rundown city.

Mechanics wise, your force is going to be about half a dozen figures a side using all the typical fantasy races but the game is dice free, instead using decks of cards for activation, combat and pretty much everything else.

Essentially in keeping with the grubby setting, the game uses a mixture of Poker and Blackjack which inolves card management as well as tactical play which is pretty original. Similarly movement is card based so a figure will either move the breadth or length of a card which I really liked as it simplifies movement considerably.

Also the assorted fantasy races have special abilities that can be unlocked by getting specific card combinations and rivalries between Red and Black suits of cards which I thought was pretty innovative and from folks that have played the game, it appears that once you get into the swing of things, a game will generally last 30-45 minutes which is good.

Combined with a simple campaign system and the ability to recruit specialists and big guys once your gang gets higher notoriety it does have a bit of lastability to it but as with many of the Blue Book series, it could really have done with a few more pages of gubbins to breath more life into what is a fairly fun beer and pretzels style game.

Sadly unlike many of the more successful Osprey rule sets that have been released, it never got its own miniature range which I think counted against it as while it says you can use any figures you have in your collection, a more stylised, Dickensian range of lowlife scum would have done wonders and possibly made it a bit ore of a hit as it feels like it should be a bit more Ankh-Morpork with characters that reflect this.

Its still available in physical book format and as a pdf and its well worth a peruse as Ralph Horsley, the artist has produced some absolutely brilliant illustrations for it, especially the drunken Dwarven girl who has tons of character, not to mention someone you'd not want to bump into down the pub!

With all that said, this is a game that does deserve more attention, especially as it only requires a handful of figures and a 2'x2' gaming surface to play and does look quite a lot of fun, especially if you were to work in a more complete campaign system with different regions of Odinsport being fought over and maybe a few more gang options but as with many of the games I'm featuring in this series, its imperfect but well worth a look.

I've got a bit of a classic lined up for tomorrow but in the meantime, All the best!


Thursday 25 January 2024

An Ode to Obscure Games: VOR the Maelstrom


I must admit that I was humming and hahing about what I'd post next for my series on obscure games and settled on Vor: The Maelstrom by FASA!

Vor: The Maelstrom was originally released by FASA back in 1999 and for a brief moment could have challenged the might of GW but as with so many games from my collection, vanished into obscurity in 2001 when FASA ceased trading. Over the years there's been attempts to get a new edition, largely from the now dwindling VOR player diehards but also from Mike 'Skuzzy' Nelson, the games creator.

The game revolves around Earth being pulled into a pocket dimension which has consumed many other worlds. This nightmarish realm is inhabited by many other races and all must fight to survive the destructive powers unleashed upon them by the VOR, a malevolent singularity which is slowly consuming every world that is transported into the maelstrom.

The setting is set in the not too distant future with the two superpowers of Earth, the Union and the Neo-Sovs being caught in an ongoing conflict before the world is literally sucked into a different dimension.

Here they mus join the struggle against many foes, both human and alien, be it the crystalline Shard, the space mummies of the Pharon, the weird, multi jointed Zykhee, or the giant rage monsters, the Growlers. Survival is key and the place is determined to kill everything so straight off, theres some really fascinating settings to explore.

Each force is pretty unique but did suffer from balance issues, especially the Pharon who were seen as being extremely overpowered but if you're playing a campaign driven by narrative, the space mummies should be terrifying!

With a plethora of fantastic artists producing some truly stunning covers for the books, weird alien races and for its time, a really original set of rules mechanics. VOR was in a unique position as it seemed to have everything going for it but sadly it wasn't to be and faded away which is a real pity.

Rulewise, the game gave models action points which could be used to move, shoot, activate abilities and a wide variety of other bits and bobs and allowed you to really play in a way that previous big Sci-fi rules (especially GW!) didn't. Coupled with alternating activation and a complete guide to creating your own stats so you could play literally any force you could imagine and a D100 chart for some of the mad environmental conditions one could find in the Maelstrom its a great ruleset.

I remember it took a bit of effort to get the way it worked straight in my head as it was so very different from what I was used to but it worked remarkably well!

While the rules and setting were great, if needing a reworked 2nd edition that would have would have worked out the kinks and at least three new races and a book specifically for designing custom forces in the pipeline, the element that did let down Vor was the miniature line.

FASA got very different sculptors to work on the ranges and while some were really nice for the time, others were decidedly ropy and their tendency to only have a couple of sculpts per unit was a real shame (the Neo-Sov Rad Troopers are particularly unfortunate). Given time, I'd have loved to see the range get properly fleshed out and the setting explored more thoroughly. 

I actually own a boxed set of the game that I picked up for a bargain price on Ebay some years ago with the intention of painting them up (it is the third version of it I've owned!) and the starter set miniatures were all sculpted by GW legend Kev Adams so had loads of character, despite their limited poses and at some point I really need to get them all painted up!

Unlike most of the games I'm covering, Vor was by a large company and could have gone on to do great things but sadly its pretty much a dead game these days. Handily Ral Partha Europe produces the miniatures range and still has lots of the rulebooks and army books so it isn't difficult to pick up and its a great ruleset in its own right and still holds together really well.

Interestingly it was the inspiration behind WARGAMES UNLIMITED free rulesets, No Quarter and No Limits which are still available and would refine the rules, remove the setting and go for a completely generic wargame set that is really good to boot.

Sadly even these haven't been updated in ages but if you're looking to try them out, the game is great fun!

As for Vor: The Maelestrom, its worth picking up if you can find the rulebook as the setting is really interesting and the rules for the ever changing weather conditions are worth the cost of the book themselves, even if you port them over into your own setting (they're particularly good for depicting what worlds within the Eye of Terror would be like!)

Tomorrow will see another addition to the ever growing list of awesome, quirky or odd games I've got in my collection so watch this space.

Until then, All the best!