Welcome to Empirical Purple

A blog by Simon Brady to cover a surprisingly wide range of geekiness, in a combination that no-one else does quite the same way. Probably. Either that, or it'll just be Simon talking about the likes of Football (usually the Soccer variety), PC & Tabletop Gaming, WWE, Movies, Music and occasionally even my actual job of Graphic Design, depending on what I'm up to in the world.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Spirits go down while profits expand

This is my 100th blog post. Quite why I felt the need to say that, I'm not sure, as I didn't mark the 76th, 34th or 93rd. That's a Base 10 numbering system for you, I guess.

All the chat lately has been in regard to Games Workshop and their triple-whammy of June's annual price increases, a switch to producing special resin miniatures - which they're calling Finecast - and the shutdown of independent online retailers' ability to ship GW goods outside of Europe.

There can be no arguments now that GW is simply a miniatures company, devoted to an endless cycle of new miniatures for each army, for each rulebook, for each of the two systems they actively support. If you don't come in each quarter to buy a couple of hundred pounds worth of Space Marines (or whatever flavour-of-the-month army they're promoting at the time), they don't really want to know you as a customer.

Me? With my occasional box or particular miniature here or there, or a paint, or a brush, I'm not a particularly valued customer. If I don't walk in to gush over the latest models, I'm wrong. A friend of mine, upon saying he didn't like the latest Tomb Kings, Dark Eldar, or whatever, was told by the manager "If you don't have an actual reason for not liking them, then your opinion don't count." Evidently simple taste and opinion doesn't matter, even at shop level. Everything that GW produce has to be The Miz, because it's all AWESOME!

Except it's not awesome for anything but their cash register. Thanks to the high price of tin reducing their profit margin on metal miniatures, GW have decided to enter the resin market with their Finecast models. Now, resin costs less than metal to produce, which is nice, but generally in business, savings get passed on to the customer.

Oh no, not when it's GW.

In this case, a reduction in the cost of materials is re-inforced by an increase in the price. Boom, double profit! £61, for instance, for a box of five Vampire Counts' Blood Knights. So what if they're gorgeous models, they're more than twelve pounds each for crying out loud!

But what does it mean for the likes of me? Simply, I won't be playing Warhammer or 40k for a very long time. I have a decent amount Blood Angels, a smattering of Lizardmen, handful of High Elves and a Chimera-load of Imperial Guard - all of which (well, maybe keep the Blood Angels the longest) will either be shifted to friends who want/need them, or put on ebay.

So what am I going to spend my limited amount of geekery money on? Well, thankfully, I play more than just what you can get in a GW store. Blood Bowl is my real passion, and thankfully I need never purchase any GW model again, thanks to the variety of stores and miniature producers who cater for the BB community. Admittedly, there are some individual GW models or entire teams that I prefer to any of the independent creations, but that's no more than I'd be buying anyway.

Take the Dark Eldar Mandrakes, for instance, I think - with a simple weapon snip - they'd make fabulous Blood Bowl Vampires, and were I ever to find some decent maiden-like Thrall models to accompany them, I'd be off to buy a box of five Mandrakes to complete my team.

Blood Bowl is the perfect example of what Games Workshop should be doing. It has, seemingly, by far the largest community of any of GW's 'Specialist' Games; more than Necromunda, Mordheim, Battlefleet Gothic, Epic, Warmaster, etc. Gone are the days when GW's 'Big Box' games brought more players into the hobby, and gave them the perfect means of expanding their forces beyond Warhammer or 40k. If you had a Orc army, you could get yourself a matching Orc Blood Bowl team, or bring a Space Marine fleet out to support your ground forces as part of a campaign. It wasn't difficult and it encouraged more styles of gameplay, more boxes of stuff to buy from them, and individual bits to expand and complete the collections.

Now, unfortunately, as all you need to play Blood Bowl is 11 models (with a realistic max of 16), there's obviously not enough profit in there for GW. Despite the fact that Blood Bowlers, like every other GW hobbyist, can never confine themselves to just a single race. Many, I'm sure, have a dream of owning one of each of the 24 teams (of which GW only supports 21, and even then 'support' is a loose definition).

Away from just Blood Bowl (and the PWCBBL Season 2 is gearing up to start in June, hurrah!), I also play my favourite card game in the form of FFG's Game of Thrones, and I'll play any random multiplayer board game that comes along of an evening. I've tried a single game of both Malifaux and Warmachine, and they were fun enough, but not enough for me to get involved in collecting, painting, and gaming with any of them at this point. All together there's more than enough to keep me going, once a week, when my Geek Night comes around.

It's such a shame - the Warhammer and 40k universes are so vast, detailed and varied, with room for everyone to play in no matter what style or game they prefer. The inexorable pull of the 40k universe, in particular, was what brought me back to gaming in my twenties, after officially putting it aside in my mid teens. Warhammer, in particular, has been hit hardest by the increases, as 8th edition promised that 'horde' regiments of 50 or more are the way to victory, while scant months later the price of everything goes up by anything up to 26% - more than seven times the official rate of UK inflation, by the way.

Hobbies are never cheap, particularly niche ones like miniature wargaming, but do they have to be quite this expensive? I would say not, and the online rage is, in my opinion, completely justified. Sort it out, GW!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Apocalypse Macho

The Rapture was coming.

No really, it was. After working out that the great flood was in precisely 4990B.C., somehow 7000 years later (remembering to take account of the fact there was no year zero AD, of course) it was going to be the Rapture.

The good would get taken up to heaven, and the bad would be left to burn when the world ended, for some reason, in October. In preparation for this, some generous types were charging these mis-guided Christians $135 to pick their pets up and take care of them after they'd been "Raptured" up to Heaven.

Non-refundable, of course.

It was supposed to take place on May 21st, 2011, but they, and indeed God himself, hadn't reckoned with the Macho Man. Randy Poffo, better known as Randy Savage. Better known by OHHHHH YEEAAAAAHHHHH! Randy Savage passed away at the age of 58 on May 20th, after a heart attack while driving. The next day, the Rapture didn't happen, and the accompanying artist's impression is our only explanation as to why.

Macho Man was great to watch and great to listen to, and certainly deserves a posthumous place in the WWE Hall of Fame - from fueding with Hogan, the Ultimate Warrior and Sgt Slaughter to his time with the Mega Powers, the Macho Man was simply larger than life, a character so big that you couldn't ignore him.

It's no co-incidence, of course. There's no other possible reason that the Rapture didn't happen, right?

Monday, May 16, 2011

Who now for West Ham?

Classy, Hammers, very classy.

After a season in which the owners lined up Martin O'Neill to replace Avram Grant, then leaked it to the press causing O'Neill to back out, they've finally sacked Grant. With a game to go. In a borrowed room at the DW Stadium, after a 3-2 defeat to Wigan that saw them relegated.

With the club behaving like that, who on earth would want to manage them? If you know that, at any point, they could try to replace you after a series of poor results. You know that they don't even have the manners to let a manager take his defeated team home on the bus before sacking him the next morning. You'd also know - courtesy Alex McLeish at Birmingham - that Karen Brady will be taking you apart in the press, despite her being one of your bosses.

And that's just off the pitch.

On it, you'll have a club with a reputation for a Youth Academy (evidence: Joe Cole, Frank Lampard, Michael Carrick) and the fact they had three players in the 1966-winning team. Never mind that Man United did too, or Liverpool's three, or that Leicester and Blackpool had guys in there too, but West Ham had Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst (only because Greaves was injured) and Martin Peters (the "other" one).

You'll get a club where every single one of the Englishmen near the national team squad will want to leave. No Green, no Parker, no Carlton Cole, maybe even Mark Noble, all of whom can command fairly large transfer fees from clubs in the top half of the Premiership. The likes of Upson, Boa Morte, Spector and even Danny "Wales' best defender" Gabbidon are out of contract and unlikely to stay, not to mention Demba Ba and Thomas Hitzlsperger.

Oh yes, and Robbie Keane and Wayne Bridge will also be going back to their clubs after their pointless loan periods.

Why would any current Premiership manager leave their club for West Ham, or any proven Championship manager leave their clubs, either? Anyone who's currently out of a job will certainly be hanging on for something better than a playing assets stripped, newly relegated London club.

West Ham could, and probably will, now go into free fall. League One may well be where they end up with a bump, doing a Leeds or a Southampton. Pity on whoever has to take charge there, because there is unlikely to be much money to spend, nor hope on the horizon.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Shattering the Illusion

I like the concept of reality shows that eliminate contestants, in general. Whether it's The Apprentice (which the US does better) or The Contender (which the US did better), X-Factor, Masterchef, whatever.

This is probably because I like to judge people. Give me a gavel in one hand and a noose in the other and I'm set. Anyone who goes on such things is simply asking to have their every move scrutinised and picked apart, before eventually being kicked off thanks to a pithy comment.

As I'm on a general WWE vibe at the moment, I started watching the latest series of Tough Enough. This, unsurprisingly, is where X amount of contestants try to get themselves a WWE contract, with one being eliminated each week.

The only problem, though, is that the suspension of disbelief is, well, suspended itself. Seeing people who have never wrestled before being thrown around and taking body slams and the like with no ill effects means that when we next see, say, Randy Orton scoop slam whoever's just charged at him, we know that bar hitting the deck, it doesn't really hurt.

Not as much as they pretend it does, at least.

It's like when Sin Cara faced Primo on a recent episode of... whichever one it was. RAW or Smackdown or Superstars, they're interchangeable now. The end spot was some sort of impressive move from the top rope where Sin Cara does a backflip, while Primo does a forward flip, in order for them to come crashing down to cries of 'Holy Shit', while Sin Cara got the pin.

The set-up was simple, Primo goes to sit on the top rope, Sin Cara kicks him in the head, climbs up and bang, highflying spot. Unfortunately, as Sin Cara climbed up, Primo slipped and sat back down on the turnbuckle, sending Sin Cara from the top rope to the outside, where he promptly gets back up, and goes to do the whole piece again from start to finish.

Wait, you missed the part where he fell from the top rope to the outside? That's supposed to hurt, remember? Like it does every other time someone does it, accidentally or otherwise.

Despite that, though, Tough Enough is still a good watch.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

NAF Championship 2011: Day Two

Day Two dawned slightly later than Day One, as the games began at 9.30 - this enabled anyone who'd been part of the entertainment and socialising on Saturday night an extra little bit of time to sleep it off! There were only, apparently, a couple of people who didn't turn up and, as Darkson succinctly put it: "they somehow never seem to be from the top 10 or so tables."

For those who have never been, GW's HQ in Lenton is massive. The Space Marine statue and three floor high Imperial Aquilla are where the main operation is located, with the White Dwarf offices, Studio, and general important business-related things go on. Just off to the left of the picture is Warhammer World, the massive gaming hall and store that GW run. It's a place where you can buy anything that GW sell, as if they don't have it in stock they'll go and cast it for you in the foundry - which is only across the road - while you wait. Warhammer World has Bugman's Bar (fully licensed to get you drunk, of course), where we had some breakfast on Sunday, as well as the GW Staff Canteen.

This also explains why I went on about the food at the tournament to such an extent. When I went for an interview at GW about a year ago, they told me that the staff canteen came Runner-Up in a national survey for the best canteen, second only to Marks and Spencer, who use their 'Finest' range to feed the workers. So, the food there is pretty damn good as things go. Anyway, back to the Blood Bowl.

Having finished in 182nd place at the end of day one (out of the massive 188 coaches), I was down to play an Orc team by the name of "I thought I came for a weekend with my boyfriend". It turned out that the fourth match of the tournament was Nathalie's fifth game of Blood Bowl. Ever. He'd come along with his team and was fairly high up the rankings, while she'd come to play too and also lost all three games on Saturday. I won that one 2-0, while helping her along with how to play the game - telling her how best to get the right blocks, make the safe moves first, all that sort of thing. I must have done something right, as in Game Six she was on the bottom table and won, beating a guy called James down to make him take the wooden spoon.

After lunch it was straight on to game five, where I faced an Orc coach called Tom. He'd got some lovely, bright orange-and-blue miniatures converted from 40k Orks, and had put Block on all four Black Orcs and his Thrower, like a combination of Norse and Orcs. Norks, they were, and he'd got them out for me. I was in trouble, or so I thought. Thankfully for me, Tom could not have rolled above 6 for armour if his life had depended on it. For most of the first half, the closest he got to an injury was a light tickling of my Flings of Leon. I Skyped with Chance and Pauly for a couple of turns during this match to give them an update on proceedings, so hopefully Tom wasn't too irritated by that.

What he was irritated by, though, was a sheer inability to roll a Pow/Open Star/Kerblammo or a Both Down result when he had the choice. Chuck in a couple of freak incidences on picking up the ball or dodging (having no re-rolls thanks to my chef) and he was very frustrated. Moreso, then, when I ended up throwing a Halfling down the pitch to score. He smashed through my lines and eventually equalised, though but then something remarkable happened. I formed a Halfing cage while he set up to defend the TTM. The two Treeman ended up anchoring the rear to fight off the black orcs and blitzers, while three Flings bravely stood in front, a square away from my ball carrier, in sort of a five-pointed star formation. They marched down the pitch, two squares at a time, with the Orcs unwilling to come forward for fear of the little guy being thrown over their heads. Eventually, though, the three Flings ganged up to smash the Thrower aside, and the fourth little guy ran through for a score to take the lead.

By now the armour rolls were starting to go above 6, and the casualty rolls were hitting the magical 7+ to get the flings off the pitch. As the numbers dwindled, Tom equalised for the second time. I had a last turn TTM from the kick-ff to try and pull ahead, but couldn't manage it. 2-2 was a fair result, though I can't help thinking it was a draw snatched from the jaws of victory (or for Tom, defeat). He'd not had the luck the entire weekend, while finally mine was coming good.

I thought.

Before the next match, though, we got to speak to Johnny P of Zlurpcast.  I had a good chat with him, then Roy grabbed his phone off me - my HTC is now irritatingly overheating after too long (5 minutes) on constant wi-fi/internet - for a good session of insults, before I got my roped-in types, Dave (Cantaloup), Arthur (Inkpwn) and Pressie (OneShard) in on the action. After Tom pussied out, Tim (who has never listened to the show), got on the phone and fell straight into line with the Blood Bowl Variety Show. Thanks ever so much to those guys, I hope it makes a great podcast section!

Might even make Dan smile. Maybe not.

My final game (sitting next to OneShard, no less) was against an Skaven team - using the ace Gaspez Arts team. This guy completely took my team apart, using the gutter runners to run the width of the pitch back and forth, with my little fat flings trailing in their wake. He kicked, then stalled to score on Turn 8, denying me a last-turn TTM, then scored a second time, a bit quicker, in the second half. My highlight of the match has to be when one of his Gutter Runners was passing to another. It was a 3+ to pass to either of the other two, though one path crossed a Treeman. Being 2-0 up, he quite generously said "I want to see the Treeman intercept!"

So, up stepped Treeman #5, Leonard Nimoy. He already had four inflicted casualties for the tournament so far (one in the first game, two in the second, and a chainsaw-wielding orc in the fourth), and - with Nuffle as my witness - I rolled a 6. Shortly after, he handed-off to a nearby Halfing, before throwing him next turn for the Touchdown - what a player! Sadly, it finished 2-1 (though that scoreline flatters me somewhat), but he was a very good player.

Then it was simply time to calculate the rankings, hand out the awards and thank everyone who organised, ran and participated for an awesome 2011 NAF Championship. See you there next year!

Saturday, May 07, 2011

NAF Championship 2011: Day One

188 Blood Bowl players descended on GW's Nottingham HQ and filled three quarters of the floor space of the Gaming Hall at Warhammer World for the first NAF Championship.

Renamed from 'The Blood Bowl' for legal reasons, this NAF-run event attracted some of the best Blood Bowl players in the world - and my Halflings.

Registering so many coaches took quite a while for the team to diligently check everyone's roster (the line stretched way out of the hall), so Round One started about 20 minutes late. but each one of the 94 tables were soon filled with players meeting each other for the first time, and getting the all-important Fan Factor rolls out of the way after introductory hand-shakes.

For this tournament, the new NAF dice were out, a vivid snot green colour with black inlay. There was also a surprise gift on offer for each player, that of a specially minted coin - the 2511 NAF Championship, sponsored by Bloodweiser Beer - which is awesome and will probably go for many, many pounds on ebay soon.

My Halflings (the Flings of Leon, with every player named after some famous real or fictional Len, Lenny, Leon or Leonard) drew Undead in the first game. After kicking off and winning the ball back in Turn 3, I quickly lost it again and conceded on Turn 7. A Throw Team Mate attempt on Turn 1 of the Second Half finished with my 'fling just a single square from the Endzone, but he was quickly KO'd and the Undead marched back up the pitch for the second score in a 2-0 defeat. My highlight was managing to foul two Mummys off the pitch - go Halflings! It turns out that Danny, my opponent, would finish Day 1 in second position, so that's not too bad a loss.

After having an excellent lunch from the staff canteen - a chicken burger with chips in my case, followed by a dessert of sticky toffee pudding with custard - I had a chat via Skype with Pauly and Chance of Three Die Block. It was via Roy's iPhone, after my HTC's wi-fi overheating problems struck again. A great chat with the guys - which felt a little weird as suddenly the podcast voices coming into my ears were totally interactive!

I then found out my next opponent, and it was Roy and his Humans (the team Roys 'R' Us)! Had to call 3DB back for the breaking news. Zlurpcast reckoned that our epic match, worth more than the Final, on Table 70 meant we were actually at 'the bottom', but there were a whole 24 tables below us at this point!

It was a great game, as mine and Roy's usually are, but this one for the record books went to Roy, again 2-0. I'll never live this one down! It's more impressive than his 5-1 win over this same Halfling team with Pro Elves, once upon a time, because it's the largest and most prestigious tournament in the world, and counts for NAF rankings!

I then moved on (or rather, down) to Table 85 where I met Utini - a Star Wars themed Ogre team with 'Wookie' Trolls and Snotlings made from Jawa minatures! This was a fabulous game against Malcolm, who had been having the same luck as me. We'd evidently both decided to bring Stunty teams for the pure fun (and challenge) of it, as a good time was more important to us than racking up the wins. Plus, we'd both had a good chunk of bad luck! We had a great laugh at this match, with Malcolm deciding not to stall before making it 2-1 at the end of the second half - thereby giving me a single chance to equalise against with a TTM play - because of how much fun a game we'd had.

At this point, because of the heat (it was in the 20s outside and humid, so 200+ people inside a closed hall were all sweltering) we got a voucher for a free drink at Bugman's Bar - and lo, a great cheer went up!

As I fell 2-1 to the Ogres, making it played 3, lost 3, I found out that I wasn't the only one! Paul's Gobbos, Damo's Orcs and Richard's Orcs had all lost their three matches too, as we made up four of the last 10 or so places! Go team! Surely we'll play each other tomorrow at some point in the last two games, possibly on the lowest of the low, Table 94.

But, sitting in Bugman's Bar with a free coke afterwards, waiting for everyone to finish so we could go for dinner (a chicken curry with rice, which was superb, followed by cheesecake), we know that it doesn't matter. As great as wins are, they're just the icing on the cake. The whole point of going to the tournament was not to win the Cup, the customised Undead team or any of the top Casualty/Touchdown trophies. I must admit I had my eye on the Stunty Cup for a moment, but a team of Halflings with no Star Players (a truly Hardcore/Insane/Useless one) isn't going to get near that amongst this sort of company. The point of the tournament is to go, have fun, meet new people and simply sit down and play a great game of Blood Bowl.

For that, it's mission accomplished, and onwards to Day 2 tomorrow!

Friday, May 06, 2011

Guilty Pleasure Trilogy Aftershocks

There's been a few momentous, world-wide happenings over the last few weeks, and there's been a lot of things going on in my life around this time, too, so let's count them up.

A holiday in south Wales over Easter, a Royal Wedding, a crapload of gardening, Osama Bin Laden being shot dead, Starblaydia undefeated in World Cup Qualifiers so far, an Alternative Vote Referendum, the NAF Blood Bowl Championship this weekend - with my hopeful appearances on both the Zlurpcast and Three Die Block because of it - and a Champions League final decided.

Pretty hectic, eh? Must be thanks to summer coming up soon and everything starting to kick off again.

But I don't always like to write about the glaringly obvious national pieces of news because, let's face it, they're done to death everywhere else. I've already had to write a double page spread about the build-up to the Royal Wedding, for instance, so there's no chance of me writing any 'reaction' posts about it.

Instead, something fairly random - the return of the Cherry Cup to NationStates.

The Cherry Cup was the first sports tournament I participated in on NS, and it gave me a somewhat unique view of the way Sports should be carried out on a Forum-based Roleplaying game. Firstly, it was scorinated with Dice. Yep, none of your fancy excel spreadsheets or custom-built programming language scorinators here, just some guy (The Gulf States, at the time) rolling dice and bringing out results. Pure and simple. Oh, and there was a lot of crazy stuff, great humour, and not a great deal of boring, newspaper-style match reports.

With some highs and lows throughout the Group Stage, my Starblaydi team managed to win the whole thing. I never figured my country would be good at a sport like Ice Hockey, so this opened up a whole new avenue to explore. Away from the typical English sports of Football, Rugby Union and various Motorsports that I competed in at the time, there were two reasons for entering the Cherry Cup.

The first is that I had an old Demo of NHL 98, which gave you one game of the Philadelphia Flyers Vs Detroit Redwings. It was nice and simple, an easy little game to get to grips with (as all of EA's sports franchises were in the mid to late 90s before the accompanying soundtracks became more important than the gameplay). I almost always picked the Flyers, with my scoring led by John LeClair, and that was, largely, my entire knowledge of Ice Hockey.

Not quite, though.

The rest of my opinions and grasp of Ice Hockey were formed by watching the Mighty Ducks trilogy. Emilo Estevez in a Go-USA kids sports movie - what more do you want? Definitely my guilty pleasure as far as movies go.

So that was my Ice Hockey initiation before NS. Since then, I've learned absolutely nothing more about it, but have had a hell of a lot of fun creating, exploring and developing the characters of my various Dwarf players (illustrated, of course) and the random adventures they get up to, inflicting cracked skulls and Multiple Axe Wounds everywhere they go. I'm really glad it's back, after so long since Rorysville killed it by scorinating himself to a win. This one really is all about RPing the fun while the scorelines are beside the point.

Oh wait, tell a lie, I know a third thing about Ice Hockey: Wayne Gretsky.