Monday, 23 November 2015

Return from the East

Been quiet here for a while as Mrs T & I have been off for the last couple of weeks or so enjoying the delights of Vietnam. We went because we head heard it was an interesting an beautiful country, and so it proved to be. Holiday impressions aren't to be relied upon - you stay in nice places and people want to be helpful so any conclusions from a two week stay are naturally suspect. However the country seems to be vibrant and thriving with increasing prosperity and a young and enthusiastic population. Also, from the perspective of a Brit who doesn't like guns and armed police, there's a refreshing absence of firearms on the hip of everyone in a uniform.

New hats for Shedquarters hat-shelf
I have never paid much attention to the Vietnam (aka American) War. I've played in a few games, - and most notably had a US firebase land directly on my NVA HQ in an Andy Grainger map game - but it has never been anything I've ever really dabbled my toes in, so my main aim in going was not to follow up a lifetime's interest in the War. Whilst the Vietnamese have to a large extent moved on the whole thing is quite hard to avoid.

We landed in Hanoi and travelled south via Hue & Denang to Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong delta. Our tour manager was a young northerner from Hanoi whose father drove trucks on the Ho Chi Minh trail. Out principal guide in the south came from the Cu Chi area where his parents were one of three non-Communist families in the villager. So we got an interesting range of perspectives, and in addition we had an Australian veteran with us too.

They talked more about the War as we went south, partly because you are visiting sites where the Americans were based. The north is more backwards and provincial but developing fast. They are proud of their victory but don't have a point to prove. This is not so true in the south. There's a definite point to be made.

So shortly after arriving in Saigon/HCMC we were shipped off to the curiously named "War Remnants Museum".

If you don't know anything about it (and I had seen a short description in a guide book) you might be surprised. Initially it looks like a conventional military museum, with the big hardware exhibits outside, - armour, aircraft & guns.

I'm often struck by the relative sizes of modern military equipment. Tanks always strike me as smaller than expected, and the Chinook, by way of contrast, is enormous.

The M113 in comparison to both is positively petite. It may, of course, be due to the setting.

Previously I've got up close to these types of vehicles indoors. Outside they can be dwarfed by their surroundings.

 Jet fighters, likewise, can seem very small when you've been hopping on and off commercial jet liners for two weeks.

They had several crammed into the entrance area. Fighters, not jet liners, that is.

There's also one of the ubiquitous Hueys, that pop up in several locations round Saigon (including on top of the Presidential Palace).

The chain gun in the window of the one here is quite a size, however.

In the forecourt area the intended purpose of the museum starts to become clear.We're introduced to a guide/book seller, who is selling books about the war including "The Girl in the Picture" and Neale's "People's History of the Vietnam War". The one I bought the latter from had stubs for arms and one leg from stepping on a land mine when he was eight.

Inside there's displays of other American hardware, but essentially you are brought here for the pictures and the polemic. The purpose is to show you why the Communists & Ho Chi Minh were right and why the Americans and their South Vietnamese puppets were in the wrong. Carefully selected quotations from Uncle Ho, anti-war protesters and post war confessions are juxtaposed with photographs often set in themes.

There's a gallery on American war crimes and atrocities and also one on the effects of Agent Orange and the other chemicals used during the war on the population and future generations. There's particular indignation that the US has recognised the effects on their servicemen and their children of the defoliants but has done nothing or very little in Vietnam itself. The picture is of Mrs T in the atrocities gallery, I think. She's been in a few military museums with me. This one nearly reduced her to tears.

The artefacts chosen also have a specific purpose. The grenade launchers are described as being a development of the Dum-Dum bullet and so banned under the Geneva Convention.

The top floor is reserved for a collection of top quality war photography from all the greats associated with the war, including Capa's last roll of film.

It's a museum that pulls no punches and is designed to ram home certain messages. It is quite clearly polemical. There is nothing on the Communist atrocities and massacres, and you'd be hard pushed to conclude they ever pulled a trigger from this collection.

The savvy viewer can't help but question some of it as it is only half of the story. I was reminded a lot in the war photographer's gallery that Capa's most famous picture, taken during the SCW, is posed (or, in other words, "It's a fake"). Many of the pictures are clearly authentic, but others are obviously posed, re-staged, chopped and framed to tell specific stories. That's not to say they are untruthful, but it is a very specific type of truth.

If you go to Saigon you cannot avoid the museum. It's important, it's shocking but it isn't the whole story.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Is this a row of Amarillos?

Why, yes indeed it is!

Here are the first pair of Bolivian units for the Pacific War campaign. They're the two most senior regiments in the army.

The yellow coated unit are the 2nd Grenadiers of the Guard, nicknamed  "Sucre" or "The Amarillos".

I made sure with this lot that they were based so that they go neatly into both line and column.

The red coats are the 1st Grenadiers of the Guard, called "Daza" or "The Colorados".

After painting a lot of Chileans and Peruvians these have been a nice change. The other two armies are mostly blue with red trousers. Colour variation comes in white, grey or black, so these bright looking chaps are a lovely burst of colour. I've got a green jacketed unit to do as well, and there were also "sister" units to this pair who wore the same coloured uniforms.

One of the Monday Nighters (Chris K) used to have a sign up in his wargames room that read "The army with the simplest uniforms win". It's a pretty good rule of thumb, and the Bolivians are at the end of the spectrum that proves the point. The various Bolivian Generalissimos/Presidents liked their men to look smart, and lavished attention on the regiments that they trusted to keep themselves in power. That's one of the reasons for the Chilean's success in the war. The Bolivian units were very uneven in equipment and training and their main purpose was to keep the President in power. Or replace him.

In fact whilst painting these my thoughts have been turning more towards a Bolivian coup game.

They're missing the standards for the moment as they're a little bit more complicated to do. They have the Bolivian coat of arms on them and overlay the red, yellow and green stripes so I have some careful cutting out to do on Serif PhotoPlus.

I have also finished my first pair of generals. they're a bit generic, but these are a Peruvian and Chilean. I'm using figures from Outpost's Franco-Prussian War range as they don't do specific Pacific War commanders. Napoleon II's general staff have a preponderance of gilt lacing on pretty much everything, which is ideal for South American generals.

These two are wearing kepis. There's a couple in the pack with bicorns and a LOT of scrambled egg. I think they'll make good Bolivian commanders.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Opening hostilities in South America

At last! A chance to try out the new armies in anger. They're not complete yet, but I've done enough to give me a game in an evening. A fortuitous combination of events forced me to work from home on Tuesday, so I was able to get home from work early enough to put on a game.

The scenario was quickly laid out and is based on a generic Pacific War battle. The Peruvians are up a hill defending. The Chileans are across the valley, attacking. Phil has already posted some pictures over on his Fog Blog, and has highlighted a number of the issues we encountered already.

Firstly I have to say that it is my intention to write an original set of rules in time for COW next July. This hasn't been possible so far due to work and other time pressures (I can't paint and write rules at the same time). However, I picked up Neil Thomas' 19th Century Europe book last year and the group has used them before for the Russo-Turkish Conflict. The book theoretically finishes in 1878 & is for Europe. The Pacific War starts in 1879 and is set in South America. However both the Peruvians and Chileans had studied the Franco-Prussian war and their approach owed more to that than the American Civil War. Furthermore weapons hadn't changed. Neil's "late breechloaders" cover the types of weapons both sides used, and his artillery rules cover the Armstrongs that were ubiquitous.

There were elements of the conflict I couldn't match completely and I had to knock up some rules for a Gatling Gun battery, but otherwise I was away without much thought required. The only choices I had to make were around troop quality and density of formation. I'm inclined to think that our South American friends formed up quite close (the Bolivians formed square to repel cavalry), but I thought that might be a bit too lethal given the firepower both sides were toting.

Having sorted things out in my mind all I had to do was wait for Chris, Phil & Will to turn up and play.

Whilst waiting I took some close ups of my figures. Here are some Peruvians defending the far ridge line. I probably need to harmonise the roof colours. The hacienda roof is more accurate, but the church roof is a bit less garish.

Here are the Chileans formed up for their assaults. In this game the troops with the national flags were used as National Guards and so were of slightly lower quality. By this time I had players. Will took the Chileans and Chris A the Peruvians.

Will started out with the deafening roar of artillery, which obliterated the Gatling battery on the first turn. Well worth writing those rules for it then.

Elsewhere a general advance was in order.

By turn 3 Phil had arrived and took over the Chilean right flank. Chris blazed away with his artillery, inflicting steady casualties on the advancing troops. No sophisticated tactics here, which is about right.

Eventually the Chileans got up the ridge and got two heavily reduced columns in on one of Chris' defending units. We were starting to get a bit uncomfortable with a few things here. The defenders are Peruvian levy class troops. However that has no effect until you actually kill something. Neil justifies this by saying that you shouldn't double count things such as morale class elsewhere, for example in the firing rules. That means that raw levy fire as well as veterans. The ability to fire a close range volley if close assaulted under all circumstances means it is very hard to get to grips with any proper force. Luckily for this game I allowed the Chileans to attack even if outnumbered because they did seem to do that in the war.

The Chileans won the melee and forced the Peuvians back, but at the cost of one of the units. Of course, as levy, they passed both the enforced morale checks and so still presented a serious obstacle even having been driven back.

Elsewhere the Chileans were getting the worst of it. A forlorn cavalry charge up hill into the Peruvian guns ended badly in complete wipe out (I turned round the last remaining base to make it look like some routed. They didn't. They all died.)

This shows the position when we ended the game. The Chileans have punched a hole in the line but have precious little to exploit it with. The far flank still has some play in it, but enough had been learned for the evening.

I think Neil's rules would work, given some heavy surgery in various places. I need to go back to my books and re-read the battle accounts to refresh my memory on how it all looked at the time (I'm reading books on medieval warfare at the moment, so it's a bit of a switch) before I start on my own system.

Epilogue: By the time I finished the blog my next order had arrived from Outpost. Lots of Bolivians, some Chileans and a packet of generals. Lots of mileage in this yet.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

An Irregular Building

This post is about a week late. I spent all of last week in Manchester doing staff training. This was very rewarding and also enabled me to finish "The Dublin King" by John Ashdown-Hill in my hotel room (possibly more on that at a later date). However it did rather interfere with my wargaming activities and blogging.

Since I last posted anything I've finished one of the buildings I bought from Irregular at Derby. It comes in several parts and I have chosen to glue it together, rather than have a removable roof. I have also not stuck it on a base so it fits in with my SCW buildings, hopefully. I may change my mind on that later.

I used a bit of Miliput to smooth out the roof join lines, but otherwise it is "as is". The colours are based on photographs I took in Peru of buildings in the countryside. The roof tiles really are that bright. The photos have shown up some shortcomings in the paintwork, so it's going in for a respray as soon as I've finished here.

This will be the rear of the property, with it's pleasant enclosed garden area. Here the inhabitants can keep their guinea pigs and chickens.

From the front the chimney doesn't look quite as wobbly as I feared. Peruvian houses usually have small pottery bulls on the roof. I tried with a bit of Miliput, but it just looked like I'd stuck a bit of Miliput on the roof.

Here you can see the size a bit better. The homestead is being defended by some brave Peruvians. The building is sold as 15mm, and it is a small 15mm. As such it is about the right size for what I want. Peruvian buildings are often one storey and squat because of the earthquakesI looked at some 10mm buildings as some of the 15mm ones are really very big and take up a lot of table space. It also looks smaller because the figures are on 2mm mdf, and so look taller. If I based up the house it would reduce the difference.

It is now occupied by the Chilean aggressors. They can fire over the wall quite comfortably, although whether they should be able to do so without a fire step is a moot point.

However I'm really pleased with it. £3:30 for a metal house is tough to argue with*. I wish Ian Kay all the best with this useful addition to his vast range. He's a top bloke.The houses on his website have come up better than mine as well, - although his are definitely European not South American.

* And with thess being this cheap I might splash out on a Timecast church building from their 10mm range

Monday, 5 October 2015

Derby World Championships 2015

This last weekend was the Derby World Championships, so I made my annual journey with Phil & Chris and the SOA/NBS stand. I only did Saturday this year as I'm away from home pretty much all of the week after.

Our stand had Phil's flats and the Yarmuk game in DBA3. There are no pictures of it as my camera battery went flat.

The show rated "okay" on the "Wowmeter". Best bit was meeting up with old friends like Pete Berry at Baccus and laughing over a game we both took part in over 30 years ago.

Nothing blew me away. There's loads of beautifully put on display games, but no real stunning or original participation games that I could see. Just acres of unachievably painted 28mm figures moving at a snail's pace across massive boards of excruciatingly well done terrain. A few caught my eye, however.

This game is Teutoberg Forest. Loands of figures. Could do with more trees. Wish I'd had more time to stop and get involved as this is a future project.

This is a 28mm WW2 game set on the Scheldt. It's USP was explosions made out of black hamster bedding stuck on battery powered tea lights.

I think this is Marignano. Lots of great figures and banners.

Classic Dr Who with Daleks v Mechanoids.

Yup. That's a Mechanoid. Created by Terry Nation as a rival to the Daleks. Made it into one series. Not a success with the viewers.

I just had to photograph this as it's just horrible. I can see what they're trying to do, but basically its garishly coloured cardboard slot together buildings. Yuk.

A renaissance star fort. Don't we all want one.

On the stand I played one game as the Arabs and won a stunning victory against my big brother. He'll tell you I cheated, but he's been saying that ever since the first time I beat him when we were kids. He moaned at being asked to re-roll a cocked die that had landed on a figure base. Sorry, bruv, Northamptonshire rules apply. If it ain't flat on the table, re-roll it.

As for purchases I restocked up on my paints from Colour Party, and got a couple of books, - a reprint of a contemporary book on the Sudan (bargain, - seen it for £10 more on Abe since coming home) and a hardback copy of Verbruggen on Medieval Warfare that saved me a coule of quid.

My looking for in hope item this year was buildings for my South American project. I wanted single story pantiled roof buildings. I was nearly resolved to settle for some over priced resin from Timecast when I walked past Irregular and saw these.

It's a new range. Multi-part buildings. The base and out house are standard but you can buy one of three different roofs, -Northern Europe, Southern Europe & Desert (the latter comes with steps up to it instead of the outhouse). You get a chimney too. You can order a garden wall as an extra. Buildings are £3.30 each, the garden walls about a quid.

These are so new they're not even on the website. I was the first person to buy any.

Haven't been able to build one properly yet, but I think you'll agree they are super and very affordable.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

The Trebian autumn tour 2015

This blog is a little late. I think I may be over stretched at the moment.

Taking a break from my hectic working life Mrs T & I took a few days out to make a tour of the north and east of our beautiful country.

 We started up in the North, visiting Master T in his new house, where I finally got to play Settlers of Catan. I think I am officially the last person in the world to play this game.

The following day we headed down to Newark to visit the National Civil War Centre. This is basically one room in the Newark Local Museum that has been given over to the Civil War, but its slant is definitely towards the Newark Experience during the war.

The room is very well done, and the key reasons for the War(s) and its events are well explained. They have some nice looking exhibits that you can get up close to, and a really cool dressing up box for children & grown ups. There is a film room showing videos about personal experiences in the Civil War (again focussed round Newark) that are slightly too arty for my taste, but well done none the less.

The exhibits are accompanied by several touch screen video monitors showing things like pike drill and how to fire a musket.

Now I don't want to be too picky (okay, I do) but that musketeer is a woman. Sorry, that's just wrong. And she's wearing modern gloves. I know why you might do that (powder burns make a mess of your manicure) but it is wrong, wrong, wrong, and are one of the reasons she makes such a mess of fixing the match in the lock. Plus she is wearing apostles and loads from a powder horn. What's that about then? Things like this are irritating as they're just as easy to get right as to get wrong.

The full experience includes a map guided walk round Newark to see the Civil War sights/sites. Of course when Mrs T and I were there is rained all day and made that a thoroughly unpleasant experience, so we didn't bother.

That's a shame as they've got a well preserved sconce, of which they have a nice diorama in the museum.

Photographs of it are difficult as you get a lot of glare off the cabinet. I thought the figures would be from Warlord, but on close inspection I think they might include a mix as I'm sure I've got some of the gun crews in my collection of Essex Miniatures.

If you walk up to the top of the museum and look out towards the church you can see the spire where there's a Civil War cannon ball hole just below the window.

We'd exhausted the Museum after a couple of hours or so and it was still hissing down with rain so we retreated to the car and planned our next steps. We resolved to go up to Lincoln and see if things were brighter there. Plus I'd just finished Richard Brook's book on William Marshal and the Battle of Lincoln.

It's a long time since I was last in Lincoln. The façade of the Cathedral is stunning. I had forgotten how lovely it is. As it was late in the day we didn't go in, - not enough time to get value out of the compulsory entrance fee.

The street plan of modern Lincoln is much unchanged, and the architecture is much to be admired.

You can easily imagine William and his men galloping up and down the streets and the chaos of fighting in such a confined area.

This is the portico of the cathedral grounds (the cathedral is behind me in this shot, and that's Mrs T with the umbrella. See, she is a real person).

This picture is from the other side of the portico showing the street running up to the cathedral. This is one of the wide ones.

This other street is more typical of the rest of medieval Lincoln, Aaron the Jew's house (if I've got that right) is behind me on my right. This is one of the roads William fought up. You can see from the narrowness how one or two horse men might easily clear it.

In conclusion, - the NCWC in Newark is, like Samuel Johnson said of the Giant's Causeway, worth seeing but not worth going to see unless the weather is good and you can do the town walks. I hope we can do more in Northampton for the Wars of the Roses Centre.

The final stage of the journey was a visit out to see Tony & Max Hawkins. Tone has built a wargames shed in his garage known as "Pod Quarters" and I was keen to see what he had done. So after an excellent lunch of Lamb Burgers and Sweet Potato Fries it was off to the garage.

The space is compact but well used. Tony has gone for a lot of under table storage in metal file drawers, which works very well. He is currently going through a mass rebasing project and so has committed the cardinal sin of piling lots of junk up on his wargames table, so alas no toy soldier game was possible.

He has a very fine and large toy soldier collection, and I think he may well have a lot more than I have. No figure envy there at all, honest. Humph.

In the absence of a toy soldier game we rejoined the ladies for some rousing card games, such as Family Business and Dodekka. Both proved so popular that Tone ordered both the following day.

After a lovely meal in the evening we retired to our hotel, before heading home the following morning.

I rounded the week off with a trip to Bristol to meet up with, initially, a WD wargaming friend, John Bassett, and eventually Miss T.

John and I met up in the Bristol Art Gallery Cafe for morning beverages and I was able to take this snap of a genuine Banksy exhibit. Being in Bristol his work is about the place and I saw at least one other of his stencils.

After a long, languid, lunch in Browns John took me on a walking tour of the sights of the Civil War siege of Bristol.

The pictures of this are few, as I only had my phone with me, but here's the plaque on the wall near to the Museum.

The weather was lovely so we had a really enjoyable stroll and John pointed out some good restaurants for my evening meal with my daughter. An excellent afternoon. All you have to do now, Mr B, is FINISH THE BOOK!!!

I met up with Miss T in our hotel eventually and we headed out for a meal before going to see the Welcome to Night Vale stage show in the St George's Theatre. As this is a converted church what better place to see a performance of a Gothic radio show.

Finally Miss T presented me with a birthday present, which was the board game "Colt Express". This looks like becoming a firm favourite for me & Mrs T.

Not a bad ending to the week.