Monday, September 7, 2009

War at Sea -- Settling on a happy medium?

It's not unusual for the cards associated with collectible miniatures games to undergo format changes. Dungeons and Dragons miniatures, Heroclix and the land version of Axis & Allies Miniatures have each see significant format redesigns.

The Axis & Allies War at Sea naval miniatures system has been very consistent for the data side of the cards, as shown by the three different Fletcher-class destroyers that have appeared so far across the base set and two expansions:

The only ship class that has appeared in all three sets is the American Fletcher class destroyer, although it's not the only sculpt that has appeared in all three sets. Each set so far has also included a version of the Japanese Zero fighter.

On the other hand, the decorative side of the card has swung like a pendulum from nice to awful to acceptable.

In the initial War at Sea set we were treated to nicely done line drawings of the ships and planes, along with historical notes. Here's the Fletcher from the War at Sea base set:

It appears that Hasbro/Avalon Hill/Wizards of the Coast decided to cut back on the creative cost of making the next set, however, because instead of original line art the ships and planes were represented with pseudo-line art obviously derived from photographs of the models. While the models are pretty good for wargame purposes they are nowhere near good enough to serve as the source for line art illustrations, as the card art for the Destroyer Hoel from the Task Force expansion demonstrates:

Fortunately Hasbro/AH/WOTC does appear to listen to the fans, at least sometimes, and the Flank Speed expansion has returned to actual line art, in this case profile views of the ships. The profile views do not have artists' credits, so I assume they are derived from official drawings or other technical and/or public domain sources. This is a very traditional form of illustration for warships. often found in books, reference works and wargame rules, so it seems like an acceptable compromise to me. It's not quite as nice as the line illustrations done by Langdon Foss in the first set but it's a huge improvement over the butt-ugly pictures of models from Task Force. The USS Kidd from Flank Speed illustrates the latest version:

I hope that Hasbro sticks with this approach for the promised Set IV and any subsequent sets. Ideally it would be nice to see Foss re-employed of course, but failing that the profile views are attractive enough.

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