Sunday, February 19, 2012

Some New Toys for Mars Needs Steam

I mentioned we ran Mars Needs Steam! at Winter War in Champaign last month. No pictures from the game, I'm afraid. But I've been finishing up work on some models for the games we'll be running this spring at Cold Wars in March and Little Wars in April. While I was doing it, it struck me that it is highly appropriate to do all these one-off conversions and models for a steampunk game. The thread which runs through most current steampunk fandom is a do-it-yourself craft approach to costumes and gadgets. Why not for gaming models as well? Certainly one of the appeals of Victorian Science Fiction gamining is the idea of strange, exotic contraptions. To the extent the players or game masters can customize the look of the game, all the better.

So here are some of my recent customizing efforts.

This is my new Belgian combat walker, complete with belly-mounted three-inch gun. It began life as a science fiction robot tank but had enough clunky detail it was easy to convert into a steampunk vehicle. All I really added was the gun, the hatch and commander, smoke stack, and a couple brass pipes. The rest is the original model, although painted to emphasize the pistons and gears. In painting these I try to keep a dark look and use the brass sparingly, to highlight or accent certain details. I've added a picture of the pre-conversion model immediately below. As you can see I really didn't do a whole lot, but it has an almost completely different look and feel now.

Here are two views of my new Auto-Mitrailleuse Blinde Legere Modelle 1887. This model began life as a horse-drawn fire engine. I added the armored compartment in front as well as the crew, and scratch built the mitrailleuse (not hard at all). Leaving it open-topped and adding the visible French crew helped the look a lot. The officer is a British naval officer from the original Space: 1889 Adventurers set, painted as a French officer. The forage cap makes a pretty good kepi. It's also the same figure I used as the commander of the Belgian walker above. (I have a bunch of these and you can only use so many naval officers.) The French standard bearer in the picture below (Liberty leading the masses to freedom) is courtesy of Tom Harris.

This is a less lethal vehicle: a steam tractor being used as a prime mover for a field gun. This was one of those plastic toy vehicles for one of the steampunk movies which came and went a couple years ago. The vehicle had a cab and engine -- basically what you see here -- attached to a big wooden keg trailer which opened up to show a rocket launcher. I didn't care for the trailer much but the tractor part was very nice so I cut it free and used it as a separate vehicle. I added the smokestack, some piping, and the driver (apparently from the Quartermaster Corps) but aside from that all I added was paint. I went for a two-tone white-over-black paint scheme inspired by the way a lot of battleships were painted back then.

This truck started life as a vehicle from the same movie (I think). It had a guy who popped out of a rear hatch and said "Boom!". I disabled the cute sound effects, added a smokestack, some piping, and a driver, and voila: a Heavy Steam Lorry. Just the thing for hauling supplies deep into the Martian interior, or hauling treasure out.

Last but by no means least we have a mad scientist and his gaggle of clockwork spiders. (Do clockwork spiders come in gaggles? I guess they do.) I was looking for something to use as the basis for a small clockwork spider at a game show and in one of the booths a guy had a bin of these little saucer-shaped spaceships -- I think they may be Cylon fighters -- for a quarter apiece. I grabbed a handful, added legs from fine wire, a little paint, and here you go.
I really like these a lot. I'm not sure they will be all that effective in a game (unless you judge effect by comic relief), but I've discovered that the things I lavish the most effort on are usually far less dangerous than just some big ol' tank.

I like imagining things with my hands. It's a good complement to writing. Sometimes coming at an imaginary world from a different angle than words can make the words come easier later.

Or if not, it's at least fun.


  1. The truck and Tractor were Disney Atlantis toys. I think everything looks cool. I have a bunch of the golden compass diecast carriage that I think will work for a remake of your Auto-Mitrailleuse. Another idea for little mechanical units is to use the old style Land Raider tanks from games workshop Epic wargame.


  2. Atlantis -- that's right. I'd forgotten the movie. The Golden Compass carriage ought to work well also -- it's an interesting vehicle and ought to get pressed into service as something. I've never looked closely at the GW Epic 40K stuff, but now that you mention it it should work for small "clockworks" as well. I know that their 28mm scale 40K tanks, with a minimum of modifications, make pretty good steampunk armored landships.

  3. When do you expect Mars Needs Steam to be published? I keep reading about it here in your blog, but don't see any indication as to its availability.

    Will it be for 15mm only or have options for both 15mm and 25mm? (I still have boxes of unpainted Martians and all my painted ones).

    1. Mark, I originally expected it to be available this summer, but Test of Battle Games (my miniatures rules publisher) has a couple other projects backed up so it will be available this fall instead. I should have the final cover art in a few weeks, however, and I'll post it here as soon as it's in hand.

      Either 15mm or 25mm -- whichever you prefer. My pals and I have lots of 25mm stuff, but Highlander Studios is doing some great 15's and should have quite a few out by this fall.

  4. The spiders could be nasty, if you make them self-propelled limpet mines.

    I use Wyrd Miniatures' steam spiders. I believe the proper term is an "Oh s**t!" of spiders. That's what I always say when I see a bunch of them.