Sunday, 28 October 2012

Sneeking some more in

Only a week after posting a picture of my Opium War Sikhs I'm back with another finished unit. This time they are Qing Dynasty Chinese from the mid-19th Century (ie Taiping Rebellion/Opium War period).

The figures are from Irregular again and have painted up quite well. I've had a bit of an issue deciding how to paint them as I want to use them both for fighting Taiping forces and also the British/French. The problem there is that the main forces that fought the Taiping were the Hunan Army, not the Bannermen of the Imperial forces (nor even the Army of the Green Standard). That means differences in uniforms, slightly, and possibly differences in colours.

All forces do have something in common,- a white disk on the chest signifying unit details. Given that as a starting point I'll try to paint them as generically as possible to enable them to be used for any army I choose. The pikemen from the Irregular range look closer to Hunan forces than Bannermen, but they'll do for both.

I think Ian Kay's figures predate Ian Heath's book on Chinese forces of the 19th Century, and possible even his Osprey book so there are a few problems with their uniforms for the purist. I think they do a pretty good job of it, and there's not a lot else out there in 15mm (there is another 15mm range, but I think they look.....spindly might be a good word. Stringy would be another). The pikemen from Ian's range look closer to Hunan forces than Bannermen, but they'll do for both. (Before anyone mentions 28mm that just isn't going to happen for several reasons: They are way to butch for Chinese, and the Taiping Rebellion is not a war of skirmishes and small actions. Armies start at 20,000 and get up to 100,000).

I've got a mix of pike, firearms, pole weapons and bowmen. I debated mixing the figures on the bases but in the end I've decided to base by type. For the moment the rules I'm working on have all infantry bases firing and fighting in the same way regardless of weapon type, so it won't matter. The references to how they formed up that I have so far are a bit thin, but it seems like they did form up by weapon type, regardless of company mix, when they deployed in battle.

So here they are, all lined up in classic pike & shot style, with the pikes in the middle and the shot on the wings.

 Here's a close up of the pikemen. They're wearing turbans, mostly. The two front row figures on the left are the Officer and the standard bearer respectively. The officer is okay, - he's in a long robe with a summer "coolie" hat. The only mistake with him is the chest panel should be square rather than round. His robe is a bit fancy with patches and edging in silver grey. The standard bearer I'm less pleased with. He was cast with a big flag, so I've cut that off and replaced it. I've drilled out the tasselled top from the cast flag and attached it to the top of the replacement pole. Like the officer he has a long robe, which I'm not sure about. Looking at illustrations I think he should be more like a standard pike man, so I might buy those instead and replace the pikes with longer flag poles.

The pikes are wearing a wrap over tunic, rather than a tabard, that makes them more Hunan than Bannerman. I've painted them with different coloured sleeves so they can pass for both at a distance. Even with these reservations I quite like them.

The musketeers are wearing what the Victorians called a "pork-pie" hat, and have the same style of tunic, although slightly less pronounced in design. The firearms are suitably bland and could pass for both match locks or "modern" rifles.

The facial detail on all the figures is interesting .Some have real character and even a pronounced "fu-manchu" moustache.

Overall I'm pleased with the look, and surprisingly these figures painted up quickly. With a bit of luck I can start on some Mongol or Manchu cavalry today.

Historical Note on Chinese Imperial Forces
Bannermen: These were hereditary Manchu forces, supposedly the elite of the army. Based mainly round Beijing.
Green Standard forces: The mostly Chinese forces that covered the rest of China. By this time more like a police force.
Hunan forces: These were local militia raised to fight the Taiping locally from Hunan province. They became a more "regular" force that the word militia implies.
Mongol cavalry: Probably are the best of the Imperial forces and fight anywhere because of their mobility.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Honestly, are wargamers boring?

I was at a non-wargaming event at the weekend which had a goodly number of wargamers present, together with their partners and other non-wargamers.

Someone’s partner set the challenge early on – she didn’t want to be on a table with other wargamers, or if forced to be so expressed the view that conversation should not be allowed to have wargaming as a starting point, or even touch upon it at any point at all. The basis for this, I think, is variously because wargaming isn’t a subject that is encompassing for non-wargamers, or that it is just plain boring.

I think it is possible to take issue with both of these points, but must also concede that there may be merit in the view as well. Men, in particular, can have obsessive hobbies and find it difficult to understand why other people are not equally fascinated by them. I sat next to a competition angler for two years on a project once and they can be every bit as obsessive as wargamers if not more so. As for motor sport fans……

But wargaming does attract obsessive personalities and even tho’ we think we aren’t like that we all have a bit of the rivet counter about us. This might not be actually the counting of rivets or an obsession with hardware specifications but the obsessive way wargamers try to track down every single piece of available information on a subject can border on the unhealthy. The consequent repeating back of that information to someone who is only mildly interested and without any particular context is one of the toe curlingly awful parts of being cornered at a wargaming show. You only have to look at the eye-glazed-over expression on the face of some retailers as a portly t-shirt wearing moves from being a sales prospect to trade stall blocking immovable object explaining why the figures aren’t quite right or recounting some other mind-numbing anecdote.

I think that it is pretty much a universal truth that accounts of games people have played where the minutiae of moves and tactics are explained in mind-numbing detail are of very little interest apart from to the raconteur. With the honourable exception of that game of “Londinium’s Burning” that I took part in with Phil Barker, - that’s a really good story that bears repeating over and over again as it shows me in a really, really good light. Honest it does.

So what passes for interesting conversation amongst normal folk? Based upon my experience as an office dweller of nearly 30 years’ standing it would seems to be Big Brother, Downton Abbey (or equivalent), shoes and hair styles. And if you have blokes in your department football. And more football.

For people who haven’t met for a while it starts with holidays (guilty as charged, your honour), cars, how your children are getting on and as years advance how you are coping with your parents, the divorce and so on. And then what?

This is the point at which mutually shared hobby conversation can be held off no more. With wargamers conversation can go one of at least two ways. Talking about rules sets and figures is certainly boring to anyone who does not use or have an interest in precisely those items even if you are a wargamer, so wives and partners almost certainly have a point there. But once you start to talk about the historical background, that’s a different matter. So much of our world is a consequence of our past. How can you talk about what is happening in the Arab world without understanding its past, particularly its violent past, - not just the Crusades as well. The Mahdi and the Suez Canal have a lot to answer for.  Many wargamers are better informed about our history than the people sharing your railway carriage, regardless of the colour of the newspaper they are reading.  They just don’t realise it, or think that a colour of a cockade is more interesting than the reasons for the war it was worn in or its consequences. Thus we have the conundrum that wargamers could be interesting to non-wargamers if only they understood people a bit better.

What a funny bunch we are.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

Sneeking some in

In spite of all my recent protestations about lack of painting time I have been able to finish up a couple of units this week.

The first is my opening attempt at a "Taiping Era" unit. These are supposed to be the Ludhiana Sikh Infantry Regiment. They are Irregular Indian Mutiny "Loyal Sikh" figures. The paint scheme is taken from a combination of the three Ospreys that cover the Indian Mutiny (numbers 67, 219 & 268), and Boris Mollo's "The Indian Army" together with a photograph of the regiment in China, taken from Wikipedia. 

Looking at the picture it seems to me that they have slightly darker trousers than tunics, and that their turbans are of a plain colour. I've therefore concluded that they were in red tunics with blue trousers and a yellow turban with no stripe. Taking Mollo and the Ospreys I've given them green facings and a red stripe down the trousers. No flag, yet, but I'm working on it.

So here's what they came out like:

I quite like them. Irregular look a little bit more "rugged" than some other designers, and Ian Kay's policy of making figures with slight variations - the Sikhs have a fine mix of beards - makes them look suitably authentic.

The second unit for your delectation and delight is my second unit of Spanish Civil War cavalry. These are the Peter Pig figures with the rifles (a better pose than the sabre armed figure, I feel). The MG unit is hidden at the back and the cornet doesn't have flag yet, but I think they have shaped up okay.

So, what with one thing and another, the week has been quite successful.

Monday, 15 October 2012

Grownup Dilemma

When I started this blog the aim was to write about a number of things, - chief amongst them was how being a grownup affects your wargaming in both a positive and negative way. Some of the earliest posts were about how I paint armies. The technique is designed to produce armies reasonably quickly in a series of hour long bursts. They key thing was to finish each stage in an evening so that figures dried overnight. This was ideal as it gave me an hour long wind-down activity after work and also meant that broadly speaking I completed and based at least one regiment a week. 

Of course all of this relied upon me finishing work and getting home in a reasonable time and, to a lesser extent, not having to get up really early in the morning. It also meant that weekends were free for bigger projects (doing scenery for example) or actually doing proper grownups things such as mowing the lawn or decorating.

Things have obviously moved on. The change in working conditions mean that I’m now commuting 2 hours each way to work, thus getting up earlier than I’d like and getting home later than I care to think about.

Weekends likewise have become more complicated following the decline in my parents’ health and my brother’s car accident earlier in the year, with at least one day spent running around after my mother & father doing odd jobs or taking my mother shopping.

This weekend I did get some painting done, although I discovered an extra use for the Ronseal varnish I use in place of “army painter” tinted varnish. Apparently you can use it to varnish woodwork too. Anyhow I’ve finished the paint work on another regiment of Spanish Civil War cavalry and glued them on some bases so they’ve only got a couple of night’s work to finish them. And I’ve started work on a regiment of Sikhs I’ve bought to use in my new Chinese game, all of which is good, but it is so slow.

I’ve always regarded the painting of the figures as an important part of the process. They get me emotionally connected to the armies and I start to develop an attachment to the various units based not just on their actual history but how tractable they were as I struggled to bring them to life for the wargames table. The idea of buying a completely new army from a “bring and buy” has always seemed anathema to me, and as for getting figures done by a painting service….well that’s even more impersonal. I had a colleague at my previous place of employment who worked such long hours that he used a painting service (although he never got round to basing the stuff up or even arranging a game so that seemed to me to be a bit of a waste anyway).

Recently I’ve been reconsidering the idea. Especially as I’ve offered a session for CoW next year, - in 8 months’ time – and my progress so far is the paint work on the Sikhs referred to above. I haven’t even bought all of the figures yet. 

So maybe a service is the answer. And if I varnish with Ronseal and do the basing myself they’ll look like my figures.

But I’ll know.

Saturday, 13 October 2012

If WWI was a bar fight.....

I don't usually do things like this, but Howard Whitehouse posted this on a Yahoo Group and it made me laugh.

Germany, Austria and Italy are standing together in the middle of a pub when Serbia bumps into Austria and spills Austria's pint. Austria demands Serbia buy it a complete new suit because there are splashes on its trouser leg. Germany expresses its support for Austria's point of view. Britain recommends that everyone calm down a bit.

Serbia points out that it can't afford a whole suit, but offers to pay for the cleaning of Austria's trousers. Russia and Serbia look at Austria. Austria asks Serbia who it's looking at. Russia suggests that Austria should leave its little brother alone. Austria inquires as to whose army will assist Russia in compelling it to do so. Germany appeals to Britain that France has been looking at it, and that this is sufficiently out of order that Britain should not intervene. Britain replies that France can look at who it wants to, that Britain is looking at Germany too, and what is Germany going to do about it?

Germany tells Russia to stop looking at Austria, or Germany will render Russia incapable of such action. Britain and France ask Germany whether it's looking at Belgium. Turkey and Germany go off into a corner and whisper.

When they come back, Turkey makes a show of not looking at anyone. Germany rolls up its sleeves, looks at France, and punches Belgium. France and Britain punch Germany. Austria punches Russia. Germany punches Britain and France with one hand and Russia with the other. Russia throws a punch at Germany, but misses and nearly falls over. Japan calls over from the other side of the room that it's on Britain's side, but stays there. Italy surprises everyone by punching Austria.

Australia punches Turkey, and gets punched back. There are no hard feelings because Britain made Australia do it. France gets thrown through a plate glass window, but gets back up and carries on fighting. Russia gets thrown through another one, gets knocked out, suffers brain damage, and wakes up with a complete personality change. Italy throws a punch at Austria and misses, but Austria falls over anyway.

Italy raises both fists in the air and runs round the room chanting. America waits till Germany is about to fall over from sustained punching from Britain and France, then walks over and smashes it with a barstool, then pretends it won the fight all by itself. By now all the chairs are broken and the big mirror over the bar is shattered. Britain, France and America agree that Germany threw the first punch, so the whole thing is Germany's fault. 

While Germany is still unconscious, they go through its pockets, steal its wallet, and buy drinks for all their friends.

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Sunday at Derby

Back to Derby and I'm warming to the venue. this is probably for two reasons:

1) I've put on an extra layer of clothing
2) There seems to be a lot fewer people out on the track making an awful racket.

I've got my camera with me today with a fully charged battery so I've been able to take a few pictures of the show.

The first game that caught my eye - partly because it was set up next to us - was the RAF wargamers "Bomber Command" game.  I liked the stylish layout that looked like a tactical map and the clever, simple, way of showing searchlights. Mass bombing raids aren't a naturally easy thing to game and i think they've done it really well, as you can see below.

Shows are an occasion to meet up with old friends. First game of the day was with Mark J (on the left in the photo) who I was at university with. He turned up with a friend and they took a side each.Mark took the Egyptians and got a right royal thumping.

My wander round meant I stumbled upon Pony Wars, run by the "Sons of Simon de Montford" club from Loughborough. Now I remember Pony Wars from the early 80's, run by Ian Beck of the Halifax Club. It broke new ground as a participation game and in Ian I think we had one of the most interesting wargame designers of the time. His sad premature death robbed the hobby of one of its most innovative thinkers. So this is here not because its new, but because it has happy memories. I hear that Pete Berry of Baccus will be re-publishing Pony Wars in the new future.

Blimey! A game of "Sink the Bismark" with a big ship and nice toy bits. Shame about the different coloured cloths.

Talking of Baccus, which I did above,  here's a couple of pictures of their "Retreat from Moscow in 25 minutes". Looks great, clever ideas, nice boards and models.

Final photo is of the hall itself. As I said, it's a big soulless space. Still if the other venue has gone you take what you can get.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Derby 2012

So to the second of my usual annual wargames shows outings takes me to Derby for the World Championships with "Call it Qids".

The venue has moved from the University of Derby to the Castle Donington Exhibition Centre. This is basically a big warehouse next to the racing track. This means its a very big open space so all trade stands, games, and demonstrations are all in one big space. This is a definite improvement on the University site. Stacked up against this is it is cold and very noisy. The track noise intrudes into the venue and the acoustics mean you can't here anyone talking even if they're standing next to you. This is going to make running a game with the public a challenge.

Add to that the fact that I can't get a 3G signal on my phone and the battery appears to be flat in my camera plus I left the SD card reader at home means I've not got off to a good start. Plus the vendor of the figures I want hasn't got most of them in stock.At least he'll take an order and post for free, but I really wanted to see the figures before I bought. Ian Kay's another of the hobby's really nice guys and I can't blame him for being a bit light on stock. After all he has the largest range you can imagine.

Afternoon Update
The show seems to be busier than the last year but the venue is most certainly a bit soulless. I've tried to like it but I'm afraid I'm not a fan.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Russo Turkish Rumble

By way of a change after the posting of painting guides here's a blog about a new subject some of which was written on my new toy, a smart phone. Alas the app proved to be less useful than advertised so I'm back to netbook and dongle to finish it off.

One of our Chris' (we have a few in our group) has been working on the Russo Turkish war of 1877 (or is it 1878, - I should know as it is significant if you ever studied Gladstone, which I did at great length.)
Using Neil Thomas' latest book which covers post Napoleonic 19th Century Europe we had a classic battle of the era. The Turks were defending a town and some entrenchments. The Russians had lots of guns and were attacking in massed columns.

If you're familiar with Neil's work then you'll know what you're going to get. Lots of dice being rolled and lots of casualties.The nineteenth century rules have added sophistication when compared to his earlier period offerings (well, the Ancients book any way). In a way, however, there's a feeling of "Black Powder" about the rules. The core is very simple and the period colour comes in special rules for each army or troop type. Russian troops, for example, are stubborn and pass one morale test for free. They also have to stay and fight in columns throughout the game. A shade inconvenient when taking on an army with modern firearms.

Ian and I took the Turks and utilised the special rule that allows then to dig in. Which we duly did on the objectives. We then put more troops in the village and set up a firing line across the middle of the board.

Will & Phil took the Russians. Will got the massed guns opposite my entrenchment and a few columns to attack with. The photos are a bit sparse as I haven't mastered digital closeups in poor lighting with the new phone yet.

As Will approached I softened up his (out of shot) cavalry which enabled me to charge them with my own. Units can normally only charge if they outnumber opponents (although Russian infantry can charge on parity). I roughed up his cossacks pretty well, forcing them to retire and take morale tests (this is new compared to the Ancient set). Alas I ended up in front of one of his columns, so I beat a hasty retreat.

Meanwhile, Ian skulked in the village.

I suffered from Will's artillery bombardment  but when his columns closed I gave them such a mauling they were fit for nothing more than chasing off our Bashi Bazouks, who skipped past them and headed off to the woods so they could shoot up Will's artillery.

Ian was now under concerted attack from massed columns, which created a target rich environment for him. He got a bit excited as to who to fire at, to be honest.

But even so he gave the columns a rough handling and saw them off in fine fashion.

And so we won.

The rules give a fast, playable game. They are subject heavily to the vagaries of the dice, but I've played Shako a few times this year, and suffered a similar fate for the same reasons.Some of the rules strike you as odd at first, - troops in firing lines can't move, for example, - but the overall package sort of works. Not much of this is in my core area of expertise so I can't comment on the historical verisimillitude of the whole affair. However Chris has a two volume Cassal's history of the war written at the time and he's happy with it all.

We all agreed we'd had a good time and encouraged Chris to get some more figures and paint them up. He was more pleased with the former comment than the latter, but which ever way up, we'll be playing them again.

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

José María Bueno's "El Ejercito Espanol En Parada" - Set 5

And finally set 5, which contains the mythical Cavalry MG section. What is that truncated cone on the back of the horse?

Aviacion Legionaria Italiana
Italian Aviation Legion
Section de Ametralladoras de un escuadron de caballeria
Machine Gun Section of a Cavalry Squadron

Esquiadores Somosierra - Ski Troops

Primera Bandera de la Falange de Navarra
First Battalion of the Navarre Falange

Escuadron de Lanceros de Farnesio
Squadron of Farnese Lancers

Moroccan Cavalry (original caption illegible)

Batallion Expedicionario de Infantry de Marina
Marines Expeditionary Battalion

Section de Sanidad - Medical Teams
So that's all I've got. A unique resource hopefully stored in an accessible place for future wargamers.

Shame there's no Republicans.