Monday, 31 July 2017

Review: Cigar Box Battle's Kickstarter Mat (Double-Sided Plush Mat)

One of the Kickstarter products that I have been excited about for a fair while is the Cigar Box Battle's Double-Sided Plush Mats. As many of my readers know, I have a couple of the original mats and love them! Recently, I was lucky enough to receive a pre-release Kickstarter Battle Mat from Cigar Box Battle. In this post, we review that product.

Review of Cigar Box Battle Mats Kickstarter Double-Sided Plush Mats
A review of Cigar Box Battle's double-sided plush gaming mats (On Kickstarter Now!). 

Above, we have the new double-sided plush mat (on the left) paired with the original 6' by 4' Plus gaming mat (on the right). It is very apparent that the plush mat is significantly thicker than the original battle mat.

Cigar Box Battle Mats size Comparion - origitnal to double-sided Plush (Kickstarter)
Another angle of the same two mats.

The mats themselves are gorgeous. Cigar Box Battle gave me a choice of two designs to make a single mat. I chose their Medieval City Mat and the Beachhead Mat (pictured below).

The Medieval City mat. 

The Beachhead mat.

The fact that they printed two mats on one gives the product extra versatility and value. I chose the mats above because I believe that they are versatile enough to use for multiple gaming rulesets and genres.

One of the first things that I wondered about these mats is whether the image would show through from one side to the other. I find that my original mats do a bit, but I don't see the same issue in the new Kickstarter mat.

Above is a fold over of the Frozen Ruins mat in the Original 6' by 4' Plus material (not plush). There is some of the image showing through the white backing. 

This is a closer look at the back of the Frozen Ruins mat. Parts of the image faintly show through the white side of the mat.

As an interesting side note, I use the reverse side of the Frozen Ruins mat as a photo backdrop for items that do not fit in my Lighting Box. You might recognize the pattern from some of my Showcase and Review articles. 

While the originals show some image through the backing, I did not notice any image showing through the double-sided plush mats during normal use. That said, when I held it up to my studio lights, I could see part of the image from the opposite side through the material. In my studio, I run three 100 Watt (equivalent) bulbs. Only when holding the material to the light did I see some of the image come through. On the table, there is no issue with the mat that I received.

Now, let's take a closer look at the Medieval City. To help us with this examination, I have two matchbox jeeps kitted out with some spare Bolt Action bits. They seem to fit the Bolt Action scale for vehicles.

Two American jeeps with Bolt Action figures and 50cals.

One of the neat things that the mats can do is leave track marks. Check this out...

The mat 

leaving tracks on a Cigar Box Plush Battle Mat
By pushing down on the model and "driving" it along the mat, the tires leave track marks in the grass. Feel free zoom in on the image above for a better look.

The next neat thing that you can do with the plush mat is create textures in the terrain.

I cleared the tread marks out of the mat.

Creating Rough Terrain on a Plush Cigar Box Battle Mat
I then "roughed up" the grassy terrain by rubbing my hand on the mat gently in one direction. 

The jeep is now off-roading in rough terrain (rather than just across smooth "cross-country" grass).

I then cleared out the rough terrain by rubbing the mat in the opposite direction. 

And placed the jeep on the cleared out mat. 

Being able to "rough up" terrain is a neat feature. It allows users to create textured grass areas, rough seas, and "rough terrain." I like it!

Just like I do with the original battle mats, I decided to check on how the new Kickstarter mats deal with hills.

Creating hills with Cigar Box Battle Mats (plush style)
The foam that I use under my gaming mats for hills. 

Creating hills with Cigar Box Battle Mats (plush style)
Like the other Cigar Box Battle Mats, the effect is fairly subtle from the top (but it is more distinguishable in person than in pictures).

Creating hills with Cigar Box Battle Mats (plush style)
But from a model's eye view, it makes captivating pictures. Love this effect!

Creating hills with Cigar Box Battle Mats (plush style)
A second look at the same hill. Looks fantastic on the tabletop.

This "Medieval City" Mat is great and I plan to use it in games like Bolt Action, Blood & Plunder, Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago, and whatever else comes my way (that fits the environment).

The other mat that I chose was the Beachhead mat. Let's look at some of the textures on this mat. It is beautiful.

Beachhead gaming mat
This is a very nice sea and shore. There is some great texturing here.

Beachhead gaming mat
After the shore is a bit of a cliff followed by green grass. The imagery is very nice.

Beachhead gaming mat and a Blood & Plunder ship
Check out the hull of my Blood & Plunder sloop on the mat. Just beautiful.

Beachhead gaming mat with Blood & Plunder
An absolutely stunning gaming surface.

This mat is gorgeous and I can't wait to get some games on it!!!

One thing that I would like to mention about the Beachhead Mat is the size of coastal waters. This is not so much a criticism, but rather information to let those thinking of buying this mat.

One of the games that I wanted to get this map for was Blood & Plunder. I planned to do amphibious battles on it, but found that the mat won't fit that purpose. It is not the fault of Cigar Box Battle as their imagery is not misleading. It is something I should have researched better by taking a closer look at my Blood & Plunder rulebook.

At some points, the Beachhead mat has exactly 12" of water from the edge to the shore. If you are planning to use this mat for Blood & Plunder amphibious battles, this mat will not do. It does not have enough water. You would be better off buying one of the Ocean mats instead and placing islands on that. Anther idea would be to get both this mat and a second mat (the matching Ocean mat #105), and connect the two on the table. I think tat would work perfectly for amphibious battles.

As it stands on its own, I think the Beachhead mat will make for a beautiful Blood & Plunder land battle with the ships "anchored" just off the shore for aesthetic purposes. Below are some quick pictures to show that there is no room for maneuvering a large 28mm ship.

At its smallest point, the water measures 12" from the edge of the mat to the shore. 

This is how a sloop looks sailing towards that point. There is no room for maneuvering a larger ship.

Again, the discussion above is not meant as a criticism of the mat, but rather to transfer some knowledge to readers in case they plan on buying this mat for the same purposes as me. Despite this mat not working for Blood & Plunder amphibious assaults, I currently intend to use it for Blood & Plunder, Bolt Action, and Frostgrave: Ghost Archipelago. I also thinking that this mat would look beautiful with people playing Flames of War.

Overall, I think that these mats are fantastic. There isn't anything bad that I can say about the quality of the product. The mats themselves are a premium product and the double-sided mats are available only during this Kickstarter.

Price-wise, we are looking at roughly $100 American for a double sided mat. This means they are pricing the product at $50 per gaming surface. Looking at it that way, this is an extremely competitive deal. The company even gives price breaks to people that buy more than one mat. Domestic shipping isn't too bad, but for people like me outside of the United States, shipping can get expensive. I did notice that shipping doesn't increase too much when you add multiple mats. For those facing higher shipping rates, it might be a good idea to get together with some buddies and buy a few of the mats together to save money.

Before finishing the review, I would like to point out that the double-sided plush Kickstarter mats are thicker than the original mats. This shouldn't be a deterrent, but I did want to point this fact out.

The difference in size is about the difference between packing the mat with a rulebook and a couple of supporting books in the same bag versus using your bag for just the mat (and transporting your books another way). Below are some images of how I transport my mat.

Transporting a Plush Cigar Box Battle Mat
Here we have a Double-Sided Plush mat and an old laptop bag.

Transporting a Plush Cigar Box Battle Mat
The Mat fits in there very nicely. 

Transporting a Plush Cigar Box Battle Mat
Zip it up and you are ready to go.

If I tried, I am sure that I could still squish a rulebook or two in there with the plush mat.

These mats are really nice and offer several advantages over their competitors (such as being able to rough up and smooth out terrain features, being easy to transport and being double-sided). I have seen that other companies have been doing double-sided mats too, but I hear that the vinyl double-sided mats have one side that reacts differently to light. That one side can actually be glossy making photography on one side of the mat difficult. The Cigar Box Battle Mats do not have this issue. They photograph very nicely.

Be sure to check out the Cigar Box Battle Mat Kickstarter. These mats are awesome and I am so happy that Cigar Box Battle Mats sent me one to review.

Until next time, Happy Gaming Everyone!!!

Discloser: Cigar Box Battle provided Must Contain Minis with an Advanced Copy of the Double-Sided Plush Gaming Mat for Review Purposes.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Battle Report: Sea Lion "Capture a Port" (A Bolt Action AAR)

Check out this action...

In the scene below, we have three groups of British infantry holding on valiantly against multiple German troop units, a medium machine gun team and a flamer team. The situation for the Brits is desperate - but this is not where the battle started.

Bolt Action Sea Lion Battle Report AAR
A scene near the end of the game where the British valiantly hold on against an oncoming German army in Campaign: Sea Lion's "Capture a Port" for Bolt Action.

Before my buddy Dave arrived, I set up the table a little too sparse. The table actually resembled something better for a game of Warhammer or Tank Wars than for Sea Lion. Once Dave arrived, he immediately questioned the lack of terrain and showed me the suggested scenario map for "Capture a Port" on page 107 of the Bolt Action: Campaign: Sea Lion book. He was right, the book showed much more terrain than what I set up. A few minutes later and we upped the building count by five and added in more soft cover and terrain features. What a difference both strategically and aesthetically.

Bolt Action Table Terrain
This is the table I set before Dave arrived. 

A Bolt Action Battleboard - lots of terrain
After some light criticism and referring to the rulebook, we set the table with much more terrain to make for a more constricted firefight. This is the table on which we fought. 

In the scenario to come, the British would be defending one of their port towns against an invading German army. Because this is a Sea Lion Scenario, this is a town actually on Britain shores.

We decided to use the optional rule "Command & Control Breakdown" for this mission. With that rule, one unit must be left either Down or in Ambush from one round to the next. In each subsequent round, that number increases by one. This is to represent confusion in an urban combat environment.

The British Player (me) brought a Regular Infantry Army while the Germans (Dave, and Aaron for part of the game) brought a Beach Landing Force.

British Army in Bolt Action
Above is the British Army. The force was comprised of Two Universal Carriers (one as an armoured car option and the other as a tank option), A Major and his assistant, A First Lieutenant with two helpers, two 9-man Infantry sections with Bren Guns, a 6-man Infantry section with a Bren, a light mortar team, an anti-tank rifle team, a medic and a medium machine gun team. All of my infantry sections were upgraded to have anti-tank grenades. 

German Army for Bolt Action
My opponent brought four 8-man infantry squads on bicycles, a First Lieutenant, an airstrike spotter, a medium machine gun team, a medic and a flame thrower team. He also brought a StuG III (we proxied a StuG IV for that). As an interesting note, Dave 3D printed those bicycle tokens.  

For deployment, I set up my troops in three basic areas. I had the bulk of my force in a warehouse out of immediate harms way. I then set up one of my carriers and an MMG (medium machine gun) team to overlook the middle of the table maker. This way I figured I could get a shot on Dave's troops if they ever crossed the line. My final group of guys, I kept in reserve.

Dave decided to start with all of his forces on the table. He set up his forces for a basic two prong attack.

British Deployment
I placed the bulk of my force by this warehouse - out of harms way.

Universal carrier and an MMG on the street
I placed an MMG team and Universal Carrier to look over the dividing line on the table. The MMG deployment would prove to be a mistake. When I placed them, I thought that the gun teams could fire like rifle teams and fire 180-degrees from the window. This is not the case. He could fire only forward, making his position useless. Rather than moving him, I made this the first team to fall subject to the "Command and Control Breakdown" rule. 

Placing the German troops in Bolt Action
Dave deployed two groups of cyclists as close to the middle line as he could. 

Bolt Action troops on bicycles
He added his other two cyclist sections on the far side of the board along with a StuG behind some cover. 

MMG Team
His flame thrower, medic and MMG teams near the middle of the table behind cover. 

Not pictured above is that Dave placed the aircraft spotter in the top of the church bell-tower. I drew the first activation dice, moved my small mortar team forward and fired off some smoke aiming to block the StuG's line-of-site. The smoke missed its mark, but the Germans had a new primary target to take out. I couldn't believe how much fire that poor light mortar team attracted after this moment.

Light Mortar vs Tank in Bolt Action
The nice thing about light mortar teams is that they are a barrage unit that can move and shoot. I take these guys in almost all of my lists. Right off the top they moved forward and fired some smoke in an attempt to block the StuG's line of site. 

Light Mortar fires smoke on a tank in Bolt Action
The smoke missed its mark, but the Germans had a new primary target to take out.

I personally, was very surprised with how fast troops on bicycles move. Dave's forces were on me in no time. Below is how the field looked after the end of the first round.

A Bolt Action Germany vs Britian AAR
The scene at the end of the first turn. I still have a group of guys in the warehouse on the bottom right. My antitank rifle team would be the first unit to go in a hail of bullets.

Now Dave made a huge error on his first round. He did not declare anyone down or in ambush while I had left a couple of teams in ambush. This meant that I could choose a unit of his to be down for the next round. My choice, his StuG.

StuG 28mm
That's right, Dave's tank goes down due to battlefield miscommunication! 

I advance my second Bren Carrier onto the table without fear. I then moved the unit out of the warehouse to face the German bicyclists that came in so fast on the last turn.

Bolt Action Sea Lion Battle Report
Behind the building, Dave sneakily moves his flame thrower team hoping that I won't notice. Oh, I notice! On the plus side, his aircraft spotter has not yet called in an airstrike. I now have two units within assaulting distance of his observer. One six man infantry unit and the major with his assistant are on the bottom floors of the church. The six man squad is depicted on the outside, but they are currently on the inside. 

Bolt Action Battle Report
In the next turn, I got the first die again. I rushed my six man team up to the bell tower to assault his three man spotter unit. I killed one of his men and he killed two of mine. This means that he won the assault and my unit was eliminated.

Take out an Air Observer in Bolt Action
The next die is again mine, so I rushed my Major up the tower for a two-on-two battle with the Air Observer. This time I won the assault and my Major was the sole survivor. 

For those wondering why Dave held his air-strike, he was waiting for a more opportune time. Unfortunately for him, that time would not come. When I asked about why he didn't call in a strike on the first round, he stated that it was because he moved his bicycle guys in a little fast and he did not want to hit his own guys with the air support.

British are winning in Sea Lion Game
I then assaulted with my troops (originally from the warehouse) and wiped out a German squad. That was the squad that kept my guys safe from the air strike. Fortunately, there was no longer an air observer to worry about. Sorry Dave!!!  :)

Bolt Action AAR
While my forces were fighting well, I had my own problems to deal with. Across the street from this townhouse is a flamethrower team. Everyone in the building shot at the flamethrower team with little effect.

British Medic
I even had a medic near by, but he can't help burn victims. Just those hit by small arms.  

German Flame Thrower Team in Bolt Action
This little unit proved to be very effective both in offense and defence (defence because they drew my fire from other units).  All I managed to do was put a pin marker on them.

At this time, both sides were feeling desperate, and both Dave and I felt like we were fighting a losing battle. As a reminder, we had the "Command & Control Breakdown" rule in effect so each round we were both losing teams to activate due to the confusion of a city fight.

Dave managed to take out one of my Bren Carriers and then started targeting the second one. Was I ever feeling nervous!!!

Dave's StuG takes aim at my second carrier, but misses.
My team in the open takes a lot of fire but survives. 

Lady luck is smiling down on these guys. With the amount of fire that they were taking, they should have been dead. 

Bolt Action Battle Report
The same can't be said about the British First Lieutenant. He went down in flames along with his two assistants. That Flame Thrower team just earned more than its points back.

Bolt Action AAR
Here we are on the last turn of the game. Both sides have been taking casualties and with the "Command & Control Breakdown" rule still in effect, there is not much that each side can do at this point in the game. Most of the units are stuck as either "down" or in "ambush." 

Bolt Action AAR
With my last die, I rushed my guys in the building out across the street and assaulted the Flame Thrower team. 

The assault pictured above was the last action of the game, and it changed the outcome of the game. Instead of being a German Victory, it was now a Draw. The Germans killed more units, but the British occupied three quadrants of the table while the Germans only had two. Once the points were tallied, it was an 8-8 draw.

Despite ending in a draw, we had a great time playing this game of Bolt Action: Sea Lion!!!

I would like to send out a huge thank you to Forbes Hobbies in Cambridge, Ontario, Canada for providing us with gaming space and allowing us to take pictures in their store. The table that you see below is set mostly with their scenery and it makes a huge difference when you play on such beautiful tables. What a good experience!!!

If you live in South Western Ontario and are interested in Bolt Action, I encourage you to visit this store sometime. The store carries stock of Warlord Games' Bolt Action and Test of Honour, along with games by other manufacturers. Forbes Hobbies itself is within a 1.5 hour drive of Niagara Falls, Toronto and London. If you want to get a game in, be sure to call them before coming out.

Bolt Action at Forbes Hobbies
The scene at the end of a very enjoyable game. Special thanks goes out to Forbes Hobbies for allowing us to use their tables and terrain.

Until next time, Happy Gaming Everyone!!!

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