New Year, New Army: Alpha Legion


There’s a mantra for this article that I want to put out immediately: there is no wrong way to execute a project.  The only exception would be simply not doing the work.  Like painting models, project management and execution can be unique to each person.  Folks find what styles and techniques work for them over time, and nurture those skills to become better at them.  That’s not to say new skills can’t be acquired but I think most folks tend to stay with what they know and what they’re good at.  At least I do mostly.  In the end, satisfaction with the end product is what counts.  And with the new year comes new opportunities and fresh projects to work on. 

So my thought was what better way to kick things off than with a new army.  There are two reasons behind doing this.  First, I’ve never actually completed a task like this.  In fact the only completed armies I have are my Raven Guard force and Nurgle Daemons.  I also completed the Team Yankee and Heavy Gear: Terra Nova starter boxes, so I guess I have more finished armies than I thought, but I’m getting side tracked.  The other reason was to share a little about project management and how it can assist in painting an army.  It can be a daunting task, but hopefully I’ll be able to provide some insights along the way, and pass on a few tips and tricks before tackling that next big painting project. 

But remember above all else: there is no wrong way to execute a project.

Alpha Legion Primer

With all that said, I first wanted to talk a little about the Alpha Legion for the uninitiated and cover the impetus of the project.  Let’s start with who the Alpha Legion are.  The answer to that question is [REDACTED].  They’re most noted for operating using the following techniques:


Some of their most notable operatives are:

  • Alpharius
  • Alpharius
  • Alpharius

Alpha Legion operatives are all around you.  They could be a coworker, a friend, a family member, or even your dog.  Well, probably not your dog, but I wouldn’t put it past them using your dog in some capacity.  All joking aside these guys are the Emperor’s/Warmaster’s post-human spies, assassins, and saboteurs par excellence.  Their primary role is to sow confusion amongst the enemy, leading them into conflict with shadows and striking from the unknown.  These guys are the superhuman cowboys of agencies like the CIA, KGB, or MI6, and readily employ agents inside and outside other organizations to achieve their agenda.  Like the aforementioned agencies, there is nothing they won’t do to achieve the desired outcome.  Bribery, torture, murder, blackmail, and extortion are just a few of the tools they and their human operatives employ.  Information is their currency and operatives are found within every Astartes legion without ever knowing it.  Even within their own ranks.  Sure they ‘sided’ with Horus during the Heresy in the end, but did they really?  Did they really continue to ‘faithfully’ serve the Emperor?  Were they ever really serving either side or were they in it for themselves all along?  It’s just a big beautiful mess of lies and obfuscation. 

I am Alpharius and I approve of everything being done.

Typical day in the Alpha Legion.  Credit to Gray-Skull on Deviant Art.

Which leads me to the impetus for the project.  This past fall I was talking to Tyson about the new Age of Darkness starter box for Horus Heresy.  I was a bit leery about picking it up but somehow he was able to twist my arm convince me to buy it.  If I recall I think the conversation went something like this:

Tyson: *eating a giant mouthful of chips*: You should buy that box set.

Me: I don’t know man.  Not sure if I want to get back into Heresy.  I’ve got so many questions…

Tyson: *noming on more chips*: Buy it.

Me: Yeah, but the price tag is awful expensive…

Tyson: *crunching chips more slowly*: …

Me: You’re right.  I think I’ll pick it up closer to my birthday.

Not long after that I was the proud owner of a new Age of Darkness box.  My original plan was Raven Guard, but then I got to thinking I’d do Imperial Fists.  A clean, yellow army would look absolutely amazing, but I knew that’d be absolute hell for me to paint.  So I painted a test Breacher for potential Raven Guard and stripped it two days later. 

So there I sat, ‘stuck’ with this box set and not knowing what Legion to paint.  I already have a full Death Guard army but didn’t want to go that route, either.  Then out of that unknown it hit me: what about Alpha Legion?  Soon after, a podcast I regularly listen to dropped a five part series on the interplay between the crack epidemic of the 1980’s, the CIA, and Iran-Contra.  Then they dropped another multi-part series on the CIA’s MKUltra program a few weeks later.  And while this is all going on I’d been playing a lot of Call of Duty: Cold War (which I still haven’t beaten) so spy stories were front and center.  Finally we top it all off with doing lite reading concerning the Alpha Legion.  You see where all this is going, right?  Espionage and subterfuge had taken firm root and the only way to excise it was to sign up for a ridiculous new year new army project and chronicle my journey.  Plus I wanted a blueish army so that didn’t hurt the situation.  So here we are on the verge of embarking on this great voyage.  But before we move further let’s talk generally about projects.  Better to get the boring stuff out of the way the sooner you can.

Even during parades the Alpha Legion are up to no good.  Or are they?

Project Basics

Regardless of how big or small a project is, there are several common traits and definitions we need to identify before going further.  First is that a project is a non-repeatable, extra curricular work set with a well defined goal that is completed by a specific time.  Doing regular activities, such as household chores or work at work aren’t projects.  Doing something like installing shut-off valves on your kitchen sink, on the other hand, is a project.  Second, we need to clearly define what the end goal is and make it something achievable.  While saying my goal for the new year is to paint a Heresy army is ok, it’s very ill-defined and not something I’d probably be able to achieve.  I’d be better off to say my goal is to fully paint and base 20 Tactical Marines in quarter one of 2023.  This second goal is specific, well defined, and provides me with an end date. 

Which leads me into the last portion of a project: time.  Projects by definition are marked by a specific start and end date.  To say you want to do something by the end of the year is again kind of vague.  Whereas saying I want to do something starting January 1st and ending by March 31st, is much better.  One of the biggest threats to projects out of the gate is ambiguity.  If you’re anything like me, whether intentional or not,  you can get off the trail quickly by chasing hobby butterflies.  And while we can utilize that as potential motivation in the Project Execution section later on, it can leave you with no work completed and a sense of frustration that makes you want to quit.

So with all of this being said, I actually have two different projects I want to complete this year:

Project 1: List, build, and paint a 1K Alpha Legion attacker list army for Zone Mortalis games by June 30th, 2023.

Project 2: List, build, and paint a 2.5K Alpha Legion army list for Heresy games by December 31st, 2023, utilizing at least 50% of the units from the Age of Darkness starter box as a core force.

In looking at each project we have a defined goal to accomplish and a specific date that each project needs to be completed by.  At a high level this is a pretty good start.  However the real fun comes into play with executing the project.

Project Execution and Task Management

I start this section by stressing two major points that work hand in hand with one another.  First is that there is only one wrong way to execute a project: don’t do the project.  Other than that, there is absolutely, positively, no wrong way to execute a project.  The second point is: you do you.  I’ll provide some tips and tricks to utilize that work for me, but ultimately find the style and assistance that works best for you.  Some people like and need meticulous planning.  If that’s you, that’s awesome.  Some people work best executing everything at the very last possible moment.  If that’s your jam, go for it.  Again, there are no wrong ways to go about getting it done.  Now let’s discuss how I’m going to break down the project, some tools that can be used, and some tips to help things stay on track.

My organization style is planning, planning, planning.  I know I drive Robert nuts in our chats where I’m always asking what the site contribution calendar is for the year, what all of the themes are for 2023 in November 2022, and how many and what kind of articles he needs six months in advance.  I infuriate my poor wife by asking what plans are for the weekend on Monday afternoon.  It can be tiresome but I’m a planner through and through.  I can’t fire from the hip or rush at the last minute without getting incredibly stressed out.  So for these projects I’m doing a monthly goal breakdown.  This will do two things for me.  First, I can spread the individual tasks over the entire project period.  Second, the tasks can become manageable bites and progress can be easily seen.  Here’s my breakdown for the Zone Mortalis list for the first six months:

  • January: Complete Contemptor Dreadnought
  • February: Complete Centurion and Terminators
  • March: Build Tactical and Support Squads
  • April: Complete 5 Support and 8 Tactical Marines
  • May: Complete 5 Support and 7 Tactical Marines
  • June: Zone Mortalis project completed

For the main list I’ll be working in units in parallel to this and will publish the schedule in a future article.  But for now I’m focusing on Zone Mortalis.  Also I’m not too keen on scheduling so far out that it becomes unmanageable.  I have a more detailed look at each army list further down.

Sometimes this is honestly the best answer for project results.

Now here’s where the tips start coming into play.  First are visuals.  Visuals are HUGE and I can’t stress them enough.  Whether that’s actually seeing finished models on the shelf or recorded progress in a log of some sort, visuals can be some of the most motivating things to demonstrate progress.  Going back to ambiguity, if you can see steady progress it goes a long way in keeping that motivation high.

Next is capacity.  It’s easy to look at something and say you can knock it out in a few hours or days.  But can you really do that?  Be honest with yourself and set realistic time constraints.  Undue stress can be created by setting unrealistic or unachievable goals.  What we’re striving for is a level of consistency that can be maintained over a long period.

And building on that thought let’s talk about the one finite resource in every project: time.  Time management is critical if we want to hit goals and milestones.  For me when it comes to time management I tend to use the 80/20 rule and the 10% adder.  The 80/20 rule is pretty simple: I want to a lot 80% of my total time towards doing the actual labor that’s required.  The other 20% of my time is used to plan how my labor is being spent.  The 10% adder is pretty straight forward as well: if I’m encountering a new task I’ve never done before I give myself an additional 10% time buffer.   Sure you can watch videos online, read articles, or have someone explain or demonstrate what needs to be done, but if you’ve never actually done the task there may be a disconnect in motor skills, visual acuity, or real understanding in how to actually do it.  And that’s ok.  Having additional time planned to do these activities can help reduce those stress levels as well.

Choosing The Right Project Management Technique

Now let’s take a minute to talk about project management technique selection.  There are several different methods of project management and, again, the key is to pick the one that best suits your particular style and type of project.  Keep in mind what works for one type of project may be needlessly complicated or overly simple for another.  Here are three that I feel could easily be used for project:


The first one is Kanban and is the most simple of any of them.  What Kanban does is break a project into several columns where each task is placed based on its current status.  In the case of actually building and painting models I could have the columns set as Build, Prime, Paint, and Complete.  I would then have each unit set as a different color code, such as green for Troops, red for Headquarters, blue for Elites, and so forth.  Units then move to the next column as they are completed in the previous stage.  The great part of Kanban is that you can go as simple or complex as you want for tracking and it can be used anywhere.  A lined white board with sticky notes, an Excel sheet, or even a section of wall in your hobby area would all work.

Example of a simple Kanban board.

Gantt Charting

The next technique that could be used is a Gantt chart.  Gantt charts are great visual aids that allow users to see every process laid out for the entirety of the project.  Each process is then set against dates to measure progress.  This can be a great technique if you want to see every process laid out, and see process requirements and dependencies.

Example of a Gantt chart.

Waterfall Method

The last technique that could be used is the waterfall method.  Waterfall is a linear method and can be great if there are few changes throughout the project.  The project is divided into distinct phases and moves into each phase based on a trigger or event.  So with this method I could use the phases List Building, Purchase, Build, Prime, and Paint, and then specific end dates as my trigger or event.  For application purposes I would have a distinct window in which to complete all of my model building before moving on to priming.  The nice part with this technique is that the entire project moves forward as a chunk versus individual tasks.  The most common issue, however, is that exact planning needs to be done prior to beginning anything.  Additionally, this method doesn’t do well with changes, either.  For example: this method assumes I’ve purchased all of my models before I start building.  If I haven’t made all of my purchases it can cause a disruption, which can throw the project off.

Example of the waterfall PM method.

Which one am I using? 

Kanban all the way.  Here are a few reasons as to why:

  • It’s simple to set up, use, and maintain.  It allows me to put more time and energy into planning and executing the project than the other two.
  • It’s highly visual and progress can be seen through the entire project.  I’m not bummed out by seeing zero models on my shelf or get frustrated seeing a pile of unbuilt units on my paint bench.  I can tell I’m making progress with a quick glance.
  • It’s the most flexible.  If something happens where I decide to swap a unit or can’t buy something until later it doesn’t throw the entire project off kilter.  I can easily make changes on the fly and I can manage more to dates than completing a set task.

The last thing I wanted to talk about in this section is motivation.  Let’s face it, it’s difficult to maintain sustained effort over a long period of time.  Life happens and we eventually get side tracked or burnt out on what we’re doing.  Here are some things to put in your tool-bag and help with motivation.  First, always know that we do this for fun.  I know there are artists out there that paint models for a living, and I’m sure they’d agree that keeping things light and enjoyable is key.  Second, if you’re facing burnout on a unit then stop painting it.  There’s nothing worse than trying to force yourself to do what you don’t want to do.  I’ve been there; mistakes are made, frustration mounts, and I’m not happy with the end product.  Try not to put yourself in a rework situation.  Next, reward yourself.  Put a model or unit you really want to paint in a good queue position and work towards it.  It’s no different than eating veggies and rewarding yourself with a cookie for dessert.  Lastly, find other outlets while the project is going on to stay motivated.  Reading, listening to music, playing video games, and even purchases can count as hobby engagement.  Sometimes you need to put the brush down and breathe a little.

Cannot stress this enough.  We do this hobby for fun, so always be kind to yourself during long projects like this.

Army Lists

As previously stated I want to focus each list around the core units in the Age of Darkness starter box.  After scanning what units models I have initially available, checking my hobby cupboards for stray models, and opening up the Liber Hereticus book I came up with the following lists:

Alpha Legion 1K Zone Mortalis Force

  • Compulsory HQ: Cataphractii Centurion; includes minor combi-weapon (grenade launcher)
  • Compulsory Troop: Tactical Squad (x15); includes vexilla and chain bayonets, Sergeant is equipped with artificer armor and a power fist
  • Troop: Support Squad (x10); armed with rotor cannons
  • Elite: Contemptor Dreadnought; Gravis power fist (x2), in-built heavy flamer (x2)
  • Elite: Cataphractii Terminator Squad (x5); includes power fists (x4)

All in this list comes out to 998 points.  The list is built around the idea that the Dreadnought and Terminators open any needed gaps and hold vital objectives until the Tactical Squad arrives to relieve them.  The rotor cannons and grenade launcher will hopefully force the opponent to take pinning tests, while the Tactical Squad can use their chain bayonets to mince anything they come into contact with.   The last piece is that the Tactical Sergeant can assist in clean up with the power fist if things get too dicey and potentially tank any nagging wounds the squad may suffer, while the vexilla can give me a bonus when determining combat resolution.  All in all I think it’s a pretty standard ZM list but I can’t wait to try it out.

Alpha Legion 2.5K Standard Force

  • Compulsory HQ: Cataphractii Praetor; includes magna combi-weapon (disintegrator)
  • HQ: Vigilator; includes master-crafted Nemesis boltgun, meltabombs, and shroud bombs
  • Compulsory Troop: Tactical Squad (x20); includes vexilla, Sergeant is equipped with artificer armor and a power fist
  • Compulsory Troop: Tactical Squad (x20); includes vexilla, Sergeant is equipped with artificer armor and a power sword
  • Troop: Recon Squad (x5); Nemesis boltguns x3, includes augury scanner
  • Elite: Contemptor Dreadnought (x2); Gravis autocannon and Gravis power fist, in-built plasma blaster
  • Elite: Rapier Gun Battery (x2); upgraded to quad launchers, includes incendiary shells
  • Elite: Apothecary; bolt pistol and chainsword
  • Heavy Support (Rewards of Treachery): Tyrant Siege Terminators (x7); includes chain fist (x2)
  • Dedicated Transport: Spartan Assault Tank
  • Heavy Support: Kratos Heavy Assault Tank; lascannon sponsons and left/right hull-mounted autocannons
  • Warlord Trait: Master of Lies
  • Rite of War: None

I came in at 2500 points on the nose.  For this list I wanted a little bit of everything.  I think the maxed Tactical Squads gives them staying power to hold any objectives, and with an Apothecary attached to one it allows greater survivability.  Additionally the Recon Squad coupled with the Vigilator, plus the quad launchers with the incendiary upgrades can lay down suppressing fire to hopefully keep any pesky units pinned.  I also wanted a large centerpiece model and the ability to support it, so I went immediately with the Kratos.  My thought was to use the Kratos as an anchor of sorts and maneuver supporting forces around that.  The Contemptors would then help keep any difficult units at bay and eventually help the Siege Terminators with any additional melee support they’d need.  Plus the Master of Lies warlord trait allows me some redeployment shenanigans if I don’t like how units are stacking up.  Whether this is a good all-round list I haven’t a clue.  Hopefully I’ll be able to get in some games late in the year and try this out.  However the list does support using at least 50% of the units in the starter box.  I’m also being a little cheeky in that I’m going to convert the Siege Terminators using the Cataphractii models from the box and some 3rd party bits.  I looked at the cost from Forgeworld and those guys are definitely out of my price range off the shelf.  More on that in future articles.


At day’s end I guess I could play with gray plastic, but what fun is that?  There are a few criteria I wanted to cover before I dove in head first to painting.  First, I had to love the chosen scheme.  I’m painting an entire army of the guys so I can’t get sick of colors or technique.  Second, whatever scheme I chose had to be easy to replicate.  I’m not planning on taking these guys to any tournaments or use them as entries in painting competitions, but I still want them to look good.  Last, is that I had to be able to paint the same scheme with infantry, walkers, and vehicles easily as well.  With that in mind, I shocked myself by actually doing a couple of test models before deciding which of two directions to go in.

The first was a metallic blue look that is aces.  For this I started by priming the model in silver, then applying a couple thin coats of Akhelian Green Contrast paint.  Armor joints were painted black and the rebreather, straps, backpack vents, and studs were painted Leadbelcher.  I then washed those areas in Nuln Oil, then highlighting the joints with Dawn Stone and lightly drybrushing the rebreather, straps, backpack vents, and studs with Stormhost Silver.  For the eye lenses I did a thin line of Grey Seer, followed by Flesh Tearers Contrast, then another thin line of Evil Sunz Scarlet.  For the bolter I went over it with a layer of Grey Seer, followed by Black Templars Contrast on the upper receiver, and Leadbelcher on the sights, foregrip, barrel, stock, magazine, and pistol grip.  After that everything was washed in Nuln Oil and then a light drybrush of Stormhost Silver applied for a little wear and tear.

First completed test model.

All in all painting went fairly quick and the test model looked pretty good.  Since I liked it I went ahead and painted a couple more figures to see if I was consistent or if this was just a fluke.  I learned quickly that indeed it was a fluke.  The major areas I suffered from were the first Contrast coat streaking and not flowing well, and cleaning mistakes if I went on to the blue by accident.  I realized quickly that if I had this issue with infantry, then Dreadnoughts and certainly vehicles would be an absolute nightmare.  I think if I had an airbrush I could probably do the blue with no issue but ultimately I felt the scheme was unsustainable and decided not to go with it.

The second scheme was more of the traditional blue/green matte finish that’s out there.  To start I primed the entire model black and then did a very heavy drybrush of Sotek Green over the entire model.  I then followed that by lightly drybrushing Kabalite Green.  I learned quickly that if you go too heavy with the Kabalite Green the armor starts moving into Sons of Horus territory, which is not what I wanted.  From there I repeated all the steps above on the specific areas.

Completed Headhunter squad using the second scheme.  This was my preferred choice.

How fast did painting go?  Super quick.  There was minimal drying involved with the washes and Contrast paint, and by priming black it allowed shadows to be naturally present in various spots without having to do a wash on the main armor panels.  Added bonuses were the fact that I could spend more time modeling and building, I could quickly and easily reproduce the scheme on different model types, and it provided a matte finish (which I really prefer).  All of these factors added up to having my scheme selected and ready to go.

Project Updates and Beyond

If you’ve made it this far then bless you, weary traveler.  We’re almost done.  This is the last portion, I swear.  My plan now is to give major three updates through the course of the year.  I’m trying to time those around either the beginning or end of each quarter but we’ll see how that shakes out.  My goal is to focus on major milestones as the year progresses, such as completing the ZM portion or painting a certain percentage of models.  Could there be more than three updates?  Of course.  Could I flame out and sell all of my models and never pick up a D6 ever again?  Not going to deny that’s a possibility as well.  But all in all this should be a good experience and I’m looking forward to it. 

Biggest thing that I need to keep in the back of my mind?  There’s no wrong way to execute a project.

[This post was originally published at Otherverse Games & Hobbies]


A New England transplant that originated from parts westward, Ryan is a bit of a nerd that knows a little bit about a lot of things, all while claiming to know nothing about anything.  Seemingly part Khajit a logistician by trade, he’s the kind of guy that can get you virtually anything if there’s coin to be had a problem to solve.  Ryan began to learn the scrounging arts while serving time in parts east as a Loggie and has been perfecting them steadily over several decades.  He has a problem with continually purchasing models, paints, and terrain that he doesn’t really need but his wife doesn’t seem to mind.

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