Thursday, 31 December 2009

Minor irritations and potential disasters

Dammit! I've got mice.

I was poking around in the chest of drawers I keep my scenery bits in (well some of them) this afternoon, and discovered a pile of white polystyrene crumbs. They'd been chewed off the "Tomb of the Phruti", the most sacred site in the whole of Zambola. It could start another Civil War when President Jog-Jog finds out.

I thought at first that the tomb had just started to crumble through age and poor construction, but the little black mouse droppings amongst the polystyrene gave the little critters away. I'm not sure whether to paint over the damage or try to polyfilla it. If Eastern Zambola wasn't so arid I'd put glue over it and sprinkle flock over it to make it look overgrown. May be I can move it into my jungle temple box.

I suppose this is a consequence of storing so much of my stuff in the garage, but I don't really have a lot of choice. I got caught a few years ago when a load of old carpet underlay I used for WW1 shelled landscape got turned into a nest.

Anyhow, I've done a quick run through the rest of my stuff and seem to have got away with it otherwise. Most things are in sealed boxes & ice cream tubs which act as deterrent. I really don't want to get into setting traps. Not because I have a problem with killing the pests, it's just so messy if they don't get killed outright, or get decapitated.

Annoying news also arrived today on the basing front. I mount most of my figures on the Peter Pig pre-cut plastic bases. I like these as they are robust, inexpensive and don't warp out of shape. For larger models I use modellers' plywood, which I get from the local model shop. They have a thickness that is identical to the Peter Pig base, so I don't get height mismatches between figures.

Over the last few days I've managed to get round to finishing off my Sudan campaign wagon train. We've played "Science v Pluck" over the past few years, and I think the players are ready to deal with a proper sized baggage train, - one that doesn't fit into a square comfortably. I've also got plans for a balloon section, so they can do some aerial reconnaissance. Hopefully over the summer, when I get the big table set up in the garage, we can play a series of linked games based round the Suakin expedition. The picture shows where I'm up to, - a couple of mule carts, some small horse wagons & a couple of limbers. I've got two more horse wagons, two more limbers and two large four horse wagons to go. Add to that half a dozen camels and a few pack mules and you have quite a collection.

So the remaining wagons and horses are painted and varnished, but when I come to base them up I'm out of plywood. No worries, I had to go into town this morning anyway, so I take a sample of wood with me and call into the model shop. Conversation goes like this:

Me "Can I have a sheet of this thickness ply, please?"

Shopkeeper: "Let me have look. Hmm. I've got slightly thicker or slightly thinner"

Me " Well, I really want this size. Can you check again?"

Shopkeeper: "Don't ever recall seeing anything like this before. Where did you get from?"

Me "I bought it from you earlier in the year."

Shopkeeper: "Ah........"

I'll give him a couple of weeks to see what he can find. In the mean time I'm left with sanding down hardboard, which I fear may warp once glue, polyfilla'd and covered in sand.

If he can't get any, this could be serious.

(The thickness is 1.3mm, just in case any of you out there can point me at a source.)

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

Musings on Christmas

Time to do my "What I got under the tree" post, I suppose.

First off this blog is being typed up on my new Netbook. I have to say I'm impressed so far. It is rather odd to consider this is not supposed to be used as a laptop or a PC, but it has got 1GB of memory and 160GB hard drive. Ridiculous. Plus it can sit on your lap without cutting off the circulation and it allegedly has 6 hours of battery life. It also comes with a dual boot Andriod environment (?). Let me know if you know what that does.

All I have to do is chose a mobile broadband supplier, then I'll have something more interesting to do on the train on my frequent trips to London.

Any how, here's a picture of it showing this blog entry being written.

My final thought is that kit this powerful and cheap means that the computer moderated table top wargame is probably actually achievable if anyone really wanted to do it.

I also managed to pick up a few extra packets of Peter Pig ECW cavalry, just to round my forces off (I changed from a four base per "Regiment" structure for my horse to a three base structure during my game development, so my original purchase of figures left me some odd ones). Of course, I forgot to order any bases for them and I seem to have done the sums on what I needed wrong, so I shall be placing a follow up order as soon as the Piggie website opens in the New Year.

Finally a brief word on the Christmas cracker. Whilst we all tend to focus on the awfulness of the jokes, they sometimes provide unexpected bounty. My 20mm Ancient Britons are fleshed out with the odd Christmas Cracker figure, and there are other plasticy bits in other armies too. An earlier blog has featured this year's surprises, - the Killer Wind up Christmas Puddings. However, I think the most useful thing I ever got out of a cracker is featured in the picture to the right. If you can't tell what they are, they're toenail clippers. Whilst I'd never put them anywhere near any part of my feet, they have proved terrific for clipping off odd pieces of metal from figures. You know those irritating bits where the figure won't lie flat so you can get a knife at it. They're really useful for clipping away that bit of metal between the base and raised hoof of so many galloping horses.

And if I don't blog again for a while, Happy New Year.

First Ever Championship Game (revisited)

Since I posted earlier on today, I've had some pictures and comments from Phil.

This first one shows my Peter Pig Legionaries deployed deep. I love these little guys, - they really look like they mean business. This picture also shows my portable in house game board, which is painted sandy colour to match my figure bases.

For a technical wargamers analysis of the game, over to Phil:

"The game, of course, was settled by the initiative roll that caught your general with the outflanked cavalry (won against the odds), the successful break off of my exhausted cavalry unit (50/50, but with a 1:6 chance to gift you the unit), and the initiative on the last turn (won with the odds) which allowed me to start with game-winning flank melee (again, close on the odds in that melee, but you needed to beat me on the dice to survive). Very close, and I could not force my way to a winning position once the quick breakthrough option with the camels and similar stratagems had all failed :O( (so taking the 1:6 risk to get the flanking position was really my only option) ."

Sounds like I did okay, but Phil is a very generous opponent. Strangely, however, Phil's comments don't mention the bizarre incident that normally turned the game, which became known as the attack of the killer wind up Christmas Puddings. These can clearly be seen in formation trying to turn the flank of Phil's line.

First Ever Championship Game

Well, I finally broke my Society of Ancients Championship Game duck this year, - something I thought I'd never do. As a wargamer I've mostly eschewed structured competitions, - I've had a foray into the world of Armati tournaments which was fun enough, but not something to do every week.

When I started wargaming at University the SoA championship sort of encapsulated all that was wrong with the hobby. The obsession with who was a 2 or 3 pointer, the requirement to play one set of rules, the pages it seemed to take up in Slingshot. I just didn't want to have anything to do with it. Then it seemed to die, - I don't know why, but it just went away.

And now it is back in its first return year, with the accent on meeting other Society members, play what ever you want, all managed through the internet. Still wasn't convinced I'd bother to take part, but I reckoned without President Steele.

Phil Steele's enthusiasm for the hobby and the Society of Ancients is legendary. He is tireless in promoting the SoA round the country, often seen on the stand, presenting prizes or taking part in competitions. He's set himself a target of playing a certain number of championship games and has been steadily picking off the local wargaming populace. He got me cornered last night, so we set to at a Roman Civil war style game of Armati.

We played Armati as I don't do FoG or DBx and AMW is a bit unbalanced for this type of thing (tho' we're working on it). I like Armati, - it's a good, clean system that makes sense and works really well for "battle line" games. Plus I used to play it a lot and got moderately proficient.

Quick read through, I reckoned, and I'd be away.

Oh, how we forget. All those little nuances. Firstly picking the army. I have a choice of Trajanic Romans, Parthians and Germans in 15mm (like, no one uses Wars of the Roses stuff...). So I got hold of the lists and dragged the boxes off the shelves, blowing off the dust.

Hmm. Parthians, - all that light cavalry, - gotta know what you're doing with that. The Germans, - all that slow moving warband stuff. No one wins with that. Erk. So the Trajanics. I had a couple of goes at putting together a proper Roman army, ignoring all the gimmick options (not sure what you do with camels).

Besides, if you pick a Roman army it should be stuffed full of legionaries.

There's a lot of stuff I'd forgotten about playing competition Armati. There's an awful lot of space on the board. I prefer wall to wall troops in ancient games as I reckon that's what battles mostly looked like.

I won't provide a battle report, - personally I don't like them. But here's things I learnt too late during the game:

1) Camels deny impetus (aargh!!!!)
2) It's not always a flank attack, even if it looks like one.
3) Always think a move ahead with your general to stop him being surrounded and killed.
4) The game's not won until it's won.
5) That initiative roll thing is really important
6) Sometimes you can kill things too quickly. I never did get the routed into flank affect.

It went down to the wire, - President Steele won, killing four key units to my two. However, if I'd won the intitiative in the last turn I'd probably have run out winner. Losing my general figure early in the game sort of gave it away. Tense right to the end.

Anyhow, we rounded off the evening with some excellent whisky cake and a conversation that put most of the wargaming world to rights. That's what it's all about sometimes.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Rules I Like (Part 1)

Yes, I know you're all thinking what poor sap blogs on Christmas Eve. Well, I've got in from work early, shovelled the snow, made a cup of tea and now there's cooking stuff going on in the kitchen, so I've just ducked out of the way.

Only to be interrupted as the microwave has just stopped working. There's that smoky electric burn smell hanging around the kitchen now. It's not the fuse, - it starts up then stops after 30 seconds. Lights and display still work, turntable rotates but then it stops and shuts down.

Luckily there's a spare one in the garage, previously used by one of the younger Trebians at University. Excuse me whilst I go and get it.

Real life, huh?

Right, back to the subject. Firstly I have to say that just because I like a set of rules doesn't mean I play them regularly. This is more the first part of a series about rule sets I like because of things about the way they're written, or because they broke new ground, - not because they have lots of pictures, or feature loads of army lists of are written in the greatest prose since Dickens.

I was prompted to think about this because of my last blog, when I used Slim Mumford's rules to illustrate a point. They are one of the sets that I like, although I rarely play them.

One of the sets that makes me wish I'd thought of the idea is "File Leader" by Pete Berry. I've just had a look on my shelves and I seem to have lost my original copy from when they were first published, but I've got the 1994 re-print which illustrates this blog.

So why do I rate these rules? In some ways they are derivative. The morale tables, for example, are a direct copy almost of those in the WRG 1685 - 1845 Rules and often don't work that well. The move sequence is a simply "I Go - You Go". Troop classification is entirely normal, with no clever twists.

The firing system is simple and effective, but nothing special, and the hand to hand rules are clunky and require too many sums to get them to work.

The combat effect system is quite clever, however, as a unit can elect not to lose figures by giving ground. It simulates well the reluctance of units to close when under fire. If you press home you will take casualties, but if you won't take casualties you can't win.

However what makes "File Leader" special in my eyes is how it is just "fit for purpose".

The problem with many rule sets for table top games is the level of resolution. Many games have a limited number of units a side and might represent nothing more than a Napoleonic division. In order to fight battles that actually took place then you need masses of figures and more space than most people have. They also end up playing really slowly because of the level of detail in them.

On the other hand such rules don't scale down well, either. If you try to fight a typical English Civil War battle most rules are overkill. In many of the minor actions there's often only a few companies aside, - 2,000 men or so - especially in the early period Irish conflicts. You can try to scale down your George Gush rules or whatever, but they're still not written for this type of combat.

File Leader has as its basic unit a company or cavalry squadron, and they behave as such, not as cut down regiments. Before they came along games were either big battle or skirmish. The idea that you would work at a level between the two didn't seem to have occurred to anyone.

Having set that as the level of resolution for the rules the command structure is very neat, with officers really being needed for companies to function and co-ordinate with each other. This is done simply and elegantly.

And finally the Officer Incident tables. Rather than have the simple "Roll a 6, he dies" type of resolution for officers foolish enough to get near combat, there's a graduated scale to see if he is hit and then 60 different outcomes from Death to Capture and Lucky Escapes. Most of these have a different effect on the troops under the officer's command. They add real period flavour and enjoyment to the game without being unnecessary chrome.

As far as I can tell File Leader is unique in addressing this level of combat resolution. It has been written specifically to address type of combat, and so is precisely "fit for purpose".

Subsequent versions have been published for the French-Indian Wars ("Ranger") and the American War of Independence ("Minuteman") which I've never played, and the Indian Mutiny ("Sepoy") which I have. We, as a group, have used File Leader for the Dutch Revolt, French Wars of Religion (with slight changes) and hopefully next year for the Elizabethan campaigns in Ireland, - when I've painted the Irish Kerns I bought on an impulse at Derby this year.

Any how, that's my first pick for Rules I Like. Comments, as ever, welcome.

Merry Christmas to all of you out there in the blogosphere.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Don't Lose The Plot

I watched the last "Games Britannia" last night. It covered the computer game boom from the ZX Spectrum (wonder where mine is now), through Lara Croft up to the Grand Theft Auto family of games.

Looking at that last sentence, the word "of" between "family" and "games" is really rather important.

Any how, the basic thesis was that modern computer game design with character interaction and linked plot but with the capacity to roam free is a development from D&D style RPGs. It's a persuasive argument as most computer games bear little resemblance in style and game intention to any traditional boardgame. Previously it was remarked that RPGs grew out of table top wargaming.

I think that point is not as well made as it could be. I don't think RPGs are descended from the traditional competition structured game. It is more the case that RPGs grew out of wargame campaigns or more free-style games. You can see the direct antecedents in Tony Bath's legendary Hyborian Campaign which seems to have taken on its own life and direction.

There are similar imaginative strands in an odd set of rules published by the Society of Ancients. Slim Mumford's "Medieval Warfare Rules" were originally written in the 1960's and were republished in 1984. Clearly the print run was optimistic as you can still buy them 25 years later.

The interesting thing about these rules is that they seem to have developed organically in response to what the players were doing in the medieval world being created. There are boat rules and siege rules, all brought about I suspect because it happened to come up in a game Slim's friends needed to play from the campaign they were in.

It is this harnessing of imagination that is one of the things that attracts me to wargaming as opposed to having a model train set. I do the modelling and terrain building, which I accept is therapeutic, but if that was all I wanted I'd just build the railway layout. And whilst I admire a good game design and play commercially available games they tend to force me into a straight jacket I don't want to be in. I have a fair amount of admiration for what the guys that wrote FoG have done, - it is quite an achievement and is a beautifully balanced game. I just don't want to play it as it doesn't let me go where I want, - which in skiing parlance is mostly off piste.

So I write my own rules (which alternately amuse and irritate the Monday Night Group), and I enjoy matrix games, simply because they require imagination and drive a narrative for the game that would otherwise not exist. And what is more, the players between them develop the story line which can, and does, run away from the umpire.


(BTW If you don't know what a matrix game is, let me know and I'll do a blog on it).

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Advantages of Being a Wargamer (3)

One of the things I've loved about being a wargamer is the people you meet on the way. Even if you don't see someone for years, you sort of pick up just where you left off. The problem is that you often only bump into people at shows and do the "we really must catch up properly" thing, but then stuff gets in the way and you never do.

Anyhow, we needed to be Up North this weekend, so we decided to make the most of the opportunity. A quick e-mail to Pete Berry of Baccus miniatures and we agreed to meet up. Timing prevented a wargame (plus Christmas Shopping to do at Meadowhall), so we met up with him and his good lady wife, Helen. They booked us in to a very pleasant Italian Restaurant on the Eccleshall Road in Sheffield, where we spent an enjoyable evening catching up on all things wargaming and family related matters, with copious amounts of wine and some lovely food. Rounded off by stepping out of the restaurant, and getting a taxi immediately. Almost a perfect Wargaming for Grown Ups evening, (in that we had a lovely time and still no figures got painted).

I first me up with Pete when I went up to University. although he'd just graduated he still called into the University Wargames club. Pete has had an important influence on the way I wargame, his drive is always to do things properly to the best of your ability, and if you don't like something don't just moan about it. Do something. Write your own rules, set your own standards, and in Pete's case as well set up your own figure company as well.

Whilst at Uni he was one of the prime movers in setting up large , multi-day refights of big Napoleonic battles at the club. In my first year the club put on Durrenstien, a massive battle fought in Austria between the Russians and the French which is mostly unknown. By pure chance some of the photos I took of the game all those years ago fell out of a file as I was tidying up a week or so ago.

For those of you who know him, you'll recognise a young Pete leaning against the wall in the background. The chap kneeling on the table in the brown jumper is now ProfessorDaniel Szechi, currently of Manchester University History Department, and one of our foremost experts on the Jacobite Rebellions. I notice on his biog on their website that he doesn't list wargaming as one of his hobbies. Shame on him.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Odds and Ends

Oh, er, what? Just got in from a visit to the Big City, where I had a Big City Christmas Lunch. Best not to try to paint, even with patented Trebian method as will all look a mess. Better just veg in front of TV and watch Spooks or some such thing.

I did catch the latest episode of Games Britannia last night, which was a slight disappointment. It was focusing on the rise of the modern commercial board game, in particular the Big Three, - Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble, - but whilst it was good on the plagiarised origins of Monopoly, a lot of the rest was a bit sloppy. Lots of clips from vintage programmes from the 60s, 70s, and 80s about board games, including one I remember first time round which concentrated on Margaret Hiron (who I always feel is over-rated as a games designer).

It had a serious nod towards D&D and RPGs in general, with reference to tabletop wargaming, but I felt it was light on the modern game scene. They didn't interview Martin Wallace of Treefrog, for example (unless that was in the last five minutes as my digital recorder was playing up a bit).

Any how, worth catching up on i-Player, but don't be distressed if you missed it.

Now I'm off for a lie down. Another day of inactivity on the wargaming front.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Squares, Games and why I don't like Chess

There's been a renaissance in the last 5 years in square-based games. The "Red Square" games produced by Richard Brooks & Ian Drury, together with the work done by Bob Cordery has influenced quite a bit of what I've done in the last few years. Similarly Kalistra's "Hexon" terrain system encourages the use of zone-based rules systems. Personally I'm more a fan of squares (even off set squares) than hexes, as at least it makes the table look like a map rather than a hex grid.

Squares give you a number of advantages, - no need to measure, clear definition of what is fighting what, and freedom to use any basing system you want for your figures. On the other hand, I can't get away from thinking why don't I just design board games instead? Then I'm left with thinking that I like the aesthetics of the figures and the tactile nature of pushing them around, so I'll just go with the squares.

Recently I've been trying to have it both ways. I've been using Richard Brooks' English Civil War square based rules (published in WD's "Nugget" journal), called "Victory Without Quarter". However I play them without squares. Cunningly, I call my version "Victory Without Squares". (That only really works as a joke if you know the name of the original set of rules).

Any how, I achieved the non-squareness element of my version by substituting 4 inches for "square" everywhere it appeared in the rules. The first playtest was a complete shambles, but I have a working set now and have dealt with most of the problems that popped up because stuff was nolonger lined up. If anyone is interested in how I solved the problems, post me a comment and I'll e-mail them to you or something similar.

Which brings me to the BBC4 TV series "Games Britannia" presented by some chap called Benjamin Woolley. I caught up with the first one on i-Player. Woolley is a man who rhapsodises about being trapped in the house at Christmas and having to play boardgames.

Now it is traditional these days to regard that as totally horrific (same as you're not supposed to enjoy Christmas anymore), but actually it sounds brilliant to me. I've loved boardgames from small, despite having an older brother who always made sure I lost (he's paying for it now, - hasn't beaten me at a game for years). Anyway, what it means is you have a presenter who loves the subject, and that always helps.

The first episode covered medieval games (backgammon, nine men's morris, chess etc) up to about the mid Victorian era when chess pieces were formalised and snakes and ladders type games appeared. I found it interesting , - even if his belief that a game was unique because each side had different victory conditions struck me as odd. Has he never played "Escape from Colditz"??

I recommend a look if you haven't seen it, - there's another one on tonight at 9pm. However, it did remind me how much I don't like chess. As ever it was described as the "ultimate game", and one of the best wargames.

No it isn't. It's not even remotely realistic as a wargame. Where are the hills? What about the odd river or forest? Why can't I deploy the pieces where I want? Why put my cavalry behind my infantry?

The Great Commanders of history beat their opponents by how they deployed as much as how they handled their troops in combat. Ever seen offset deployment on a chess board? I don't think so.

Humph. It'll never catch on, I tell you.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

Real Life (Part 6)

Some times Real Life gets in the way and it isn't a problem. Whilst preparations have been underway for a while (and I have noted a number of Christmas Dinners already) Christmas has sort of kicked off properly. Last Friday evening we had a short and jolly ECW knockabout game (massive Royalist win due to their cavalry exploiting a poor Parliamentarian deployment) and rounded it off with some Ferrero Roche - won in a raffle - and some homemade mince pies.

Saturday was decorations and tree day which meant the traditional "Finding Out the Fairy Lights Don't Work" game, followed by the "Oooh! No One Makes Them Bulbs No More" event at the local hardware shop. Which leads to the "Soddit, I'm Buying LEDs - They Don't Have Bulbs" real-time simulation.

Putting up decorations always prompts me to look at the wargaming applications of the various bits of ephemera you acquire. So far I've got using Baubles for Hot Air Observation Balloons, but I'm not convinced they're big enough. Any other udeas, just leave a comment.

Sunday Morning's painting session has been disrupted by Christmas Card writing. This always leaves me resolving to arrange games with those people I haven't seen in the last year. Maybe this next year I'll actually do it.

Better get back to compiling Christmas Playlist for the MP3 player.

And planning how I'm going to fit in painting all that stuff I ordered for Christmas.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Local Colour

A bit of a change again, here, with a sort of real-live battle report.

First of all, a confession. I’ve lived within comfortable travelling distance of Northampton for many years and I have never walked the eponymous battlefield. Disgraceful, I hear you all say. In my defence I actually live closer to Naseby, and that's a battle I've always been interested in.

There are two other reasons why I’ve never bothered to tread the ground. Firstly, I’ve never had much interest in the Wars of the Roses until recently. I mistakenly believed it was too much sterile bashing each other at short range with poleaxes. I see now that there is a lot of that going on but there are also some interesting wargame problems to solve, especially around the role of leadership. Hence you find me as a member of the Lance & Longbow Society and the proud possessor of two nearly finished Peter Pig 15mm armies for the period.

The other reason is that I knew, as did anyone else who first looked at the period in the 1970’s, that the battlefield was under the railway line, Victorian jerry-building and the Carlsberg brewery. In terms of a battlefield in England it was about as badly damaged as you could possibly imagine. Just the sort of thing that provoked the Battlefields Trust into being set up. In fact I’ve driven over the bridge across the River Nene and the railway line many times, sighing at the sad destruction wrought on the site.

And so I thought until last year. I’d been steadily wading through the collection of books on the period I’ve been acquiring from second hand internet sites (God Bless You,, including Haigh’s “Military Campaigns of the Wars of the Roses” and the Poleaxed Sourcebooks, and eventually I’d been left with my latest general history book, - Richard Brooks’ “Cassell’s Battlefields of Britain and Ireland”, which claims on its cover to be uniquely comprehensive.

I read the Wars of the Roses section, and was impressed with the no-nonsense approach to describing the battles. And then I read the description of Northampton, and discovered that he thought the traditional view of the battle has it in the wrong place. It isn’t under the brewery. It’s up on the hill, near the golf course. Why does he think it’s there? Because the only solid reference to the location says it is between Delapre Abbey and Hardingstone. The traditional site has it between the river and the Abbey, - too far to the north.

As I happen to know Richard and we were due to meet up for other reasons I suggested we go and have a look at the battle site.

The site isn’t hard to visit. Most of the grounds of Delapre Abbey are open to public access, and you can park in the street next to it. If you park near the side road up to the Abbey, you can walk up and look back at the traditional battlefield site. It’s then that you realise how wrong the more usual interpretations are.

Even at this point there is quite a dip down to the river & railway, which are at the bottom of the hill – an area known now as Far Cotton. The photo shows the traditional battlefield site, looking towards the North, from the direction of the Yorkist approach. As you can see it slopes down quite a bit, - you can't see the bottom of the trees and some of the horse boxes from the local pony club are obscured.

The position makes no sense. The Lancastrians have their back trapped against the river, and they are downhill of their opponents. And what’s more this area was (and has been in recent memory) a flood plain. If, as has been suggested, the “quenching” of the Lancastrian guns was due to the river flooding, then the whole position would be under water. There would be no tent for Henry VI to have waited in, -it would have floated way. When the area flooded in 1998 the whole of this site was completely under water. Even if the Lancastrians started at this point they would have moved as soon as the river started to get swollen. The area below Delapre Abbey down to the river Nene (pronounced “Nen”, by the way, not “Neen”) is pretty much completely flat. The ground only starts to rise the other side of the access road to the abbey. I would hazard a guess that historically the area below there was water meadow before it was built over. It is certainly flood plain.

In fact, the reference to the guns being “quenched” comes from Davies’s Chronicle and reads “for that day was so great rain, that the guns lay in deep water and so were quenched and might be not be shot.” It seems to me if the river had flooded there would be a more direct reference to this. To speculate further this could just as easily be a reference to the gun pits in the fortifications being filled with water.

So having concluded that Richard was correct in his analysis, and armed with his book open at page 238 we turned our backs to the railway line and walked up the slope to the alternative site of the battle.

Unfortunately the site isn’t easy to assess even away from the built up area. The edge of the road, - where the Yorkist left flank would have been – is now wooded. The trees look to me to be quite a bit less than 600 years old so would not have been there then. They obscure completely the Eleanor Cross, the best known landmark in the area, from the entire battlefield. What’s more the Yorkist forming up area is also now quite heavily wooded.

However, all these criticisms not withstanding as you walk up the slope the likelihood of the revised site being correct becomes more apparent. Although the position isn’t on the brow of the actual hill between Hardingstone and Delapre itself it is on a plateau sort of half way up the slope. There is a flat area that is probably large enough to deploy Henry VI’s army. The approach to it from the Yorkist position is on a slight downward incline, but is also quite uneven. In fact it looks like the only area large enough and flat enough to deploy the army. This picture shows the view looking towards the south.

At this point further analysis becomes difficult. The local council has stuck Delapre golf course across half the site (to use Mark Twain for the second time in my blog, - "golf - a good battlefield ruined"). A modern drainage ditch cuts through where the Lancastrian left flank would most probably have been. In addition the land has been levelled off to provide a tee point and greens. It is a tragedy for me that having discovered that I can actually visit the site now that there are plans to extend the golf course further across, which will destroy completely any of the original ground that is left. The picture shows one of the drainage ditches. The golf course is in the right.

So we walked to the edge of where the Lancastrians would have been deployed, and then cut back across the field towards the road, through the area where Lord Grey betrayed his monarch, and let Edward of March across the barricade and ditch. Which leaves me almost with my final thought. What the remains of the site needs is a full geo-physical survey to see if the line of the ditch can be detected. If it was there then it looks like it would have cut across the strip farming of the time, and so be visible. What chance is there of that?

After this walk I went back to get some pictures with young Master Trebian, who is a bit handy with a camera. We went up after we'd had a summer of rain, and I can tell you the water table is quite high up there. In fact, this last picture shows a pond that actually forms in wet summers on the brow of the hill, about where I reckon the battleline would be. Surely enough to quench those guns?

Catching Up

I think I should open a Twitter account. Then I could tweet about how I don't have enough time to blog about how I don't have enough time to paint toy soldiers.

It's been about a week since my last proper blog, - a week in which much was not achieved in so many spheres of life.

Having said that I did make some progress this week. I had to make a longish train journey on Tuesday and that gave me a chance to finish Antony Beevor's "Stalingrad". I've not read a lot about the Easter Front (despite having played in an Eastern Front campaign that stretched over about 10 years), and this has been on my list to read for over 5 years because everyone says it's good. And I quite enjoyed "Enemy at the Gate"

I picked up my copy from a second hand bookstall on a local market a month or so ago. It cost me a few pounds. Must say it was one of the best pound for pound buys I've made recently. It is a really well written book as a piece of history writing, not just as a resource for wargamers.

There are many lessons to learn from it (not just "Don't invade Russia without winter clothing") - for example the perils of working in an organisation where it is dangerous or near impossible to give bad news or disagree with the boss.

I still don't think I'll start to invest in Eastern Front armies, - for a start I've still got too much to do elsewhere. And one book doesn't count as research.

My last thought on this is that I'm not aware of anyone who makes a range of emaciated Germans, dressed in Russian cast-offs and rags. I've remarked elsewhere that if anyone makes Zombie SS/Wehrmacht figures they'd be ideal for the last phases of the battle.

Talking of last phases I'm virtually at the bottom of my bag of ECW figures to paint. I've got three sticks undercoated on the desk (see early post on painting toy soldiers if this means nothing to you). That's one infantry regiment and four guns and crews. After that I've got a couple of sticks of cavalry and a few officers. It may all be over by Christmas.

That leaves me in the "sweep up phase". That's when I look at what odds and ends I've got left and see if I need to buy a few more packets just to use them up and leave me with as few unused figures as possible. I also have a look at the gaps in my storage boxes to see if the odd extra regiment is needed to fill up the spaces. So, an order off to Peter Pig in a couple of days.

Then - what next? I've been considering putting together a Peter Pig Scots Covenanter Army, but if I do that I'll need to buy a New Model Army as well. Severely tempted by that, but I was thinking of looking at a different period. Quite like the idea of a 20mm plastic Alexandrian Period Indian Army.

Still, enough for now. Need to do some on-line Christmas shopping.

Tuesday, 1 December 2009


Milestones reached today:

1) No of hits now over 1,000

2) No of followers now in double figures

3) No of blogs over a quarter of a century (ie 25 to you and me)

4) First Corporate Christmas Dinner today

5) First window screen scraping of the Winter

6) First Texan taught to sing "On Ilkla Moor Baht'at"*

Seems like it's been a good day. Shame "Finished ECW armies" isn't amongst them.

* Only partially succesful

Monday, 30 November 2009

The Advantages of Being a Wargamer (2)

It's not often that I'm inspired by the world of golf (as Mark Twain said "A good walk ruined" when asked about what he thought of the game), however Tiger Wood's recent misfortune made me think.

I mean he was very lucky, having decided to go out for a drive in the middle of the night, that his wife had a golf club handy to smash a window out of the car so that he could escape. Can't see anyone freeing you from a wrecked car with a bucket of multi-sided dice or a steel tape measure.

Alternatively if the circumstances were different* and she had been chasing him down the drive with one of the implements of his hobby, that'd be quite scary. I imagine you could do quite a bit of damage with a driver in the heat of the moment, with relatively little back swing.

It's a bit difficult imaging a wargamer's partner assaulting any wargamer with, say, a box of Parthians, in an attempt to bash his brains out with it. Even if you loaded them into a hand bag they'd do realtively little damage and there's loads of premeditation in that case, isn't there? There must be many objects more suitable for that purpose just lying round the house without resorting to the hobby room, so few wargamers are likely to be beaten to death with some of their much treasured figures.

On the other hand the traditional toolbox full of modern 28mm metal figures would tend to make a fearsome weapon if dropped from a height**. If you could lift it to a dangerous enough level without straining yourself in the first place.

Which just leaves modelling knives to do you a mischief, and frankly if you were going to stab someone you'd go for something from the kitchen, wouldn't you?

So on balance I reckon my hobby is unlikely to be turned against me by my nearest and dearest. I mean, it's not even as dangerous as owning a model railway as at least none of it is plugged in to the mains electricity.

Being a wargamer is great.

* And in case Mr Wood's lawyers find this blog I realise there's no way that there was any domestic tension between Mr & Mrs Wood AT ALL.

** Another reason to despise the mis-shapen lumpen objects.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

My Favourite Things (1)

Let me introduce you to one of the best things I ever bought. I didn't realise it at the time, but my Black and Decker electric jigsaw is just brilliant. It has made the production of robust terrain pieces quick & simple and meant I could make purpose built wargame shelving as well. You can get one for c£30 if you look around, and worth every penny. Plus it comes off the household not the wargaming budget.

We'll leave the shelving to one side for the moment, and concentrate on the making of terrain pieces.

I'm usually okay with the concept of spending money on wargaming peripherals such as rules, books and terrain bits and pieces. After all I'm a Grown Up with Grown Up income and restricted time. I'm prepared to throw money at a wargaming problem if it'll get me to the answer I want quickly enough.

And then...I'm not prepared to be ripped off for bits of road that are going to fall apart or look tatty inside a couple of months. I want stuff I can chuck in boxes and lug about round the country without having to worry about it. I look at what's on sale and have a Top Gear moment ("How Hard Can It Be?"). Plus I know I'll have to repaint anything I buy so it matches my figures and wargames table any way (see "Painting Toy Soldiers (4)" elsewhere on this blog).

I'm helped in the production of terrain by the upgrading of furniture that has taken place over my aduly life. We started off with some really cheap MFI wardrobes and chests of drawers and have moved up to professionally fitted stuff. Rather than dump the old furniture I disassembled it and stored it in the garage against some future, ill-defined usage (try to explain this to most women, - they can't understand why it's important to keep odd bits of wood. You just never know).

So when I decided I wanted long stretches of road to put across the rolling savannah of my fictional African country I started by hunting in the garage. I had a load of hardboard off the back of a wardrobe. I cut this into strips about 50mm wide (to accommodate the 40mm frontage of most of my vehicles) and the length of the hardboard panel width (c200mm). I then ran polyfilla humps down the side of the road and shook sand over that. Once this was dry I painted them with my standard Dulux brown, and added an off-white drybrush.

To get 4 metres or more of road took me no more than three hours. The curves took a bit longer, - I had to drawn them with a pair of compasses and a graph flexi-curve (see picture if you've forgotten what one of these is).

The production of small rivers is straight forward as well, using the same technique. However, I did make slight changes. My first river strips were dead straight, and look like canals (see piece on extreme left). I then twigged that as long as the start and end of the river sections are matched up you can make little bends in between to make it look more realistic and still have a straight river. The flexi-curve really worked over time for this lot.

Just to show off here's a picture of my Hovels watermill, which I put on a base to get it to the same height and added matching river banks. The size and width of the river was determined by the fact I own a couple of Peter Pig resin bridges that used to be in his fantasy range. Don't be put off by the fantasy tag, - they're nice little pieces.

Finally, I suppose you all want to know what I did with the doors off the wardrobes.

Well, I made ridge hills for my desert games. The jigsaw enables you to draw randomly wiggly lines on the sheets of chipboard and cut through them easily. Depending on your patience you can either glue them together with PVA glue, or just screw them together with some wood chip screws (remember to countersink the holes). I then paint with a layer of polytex ceiling paint to give them some texture, before I finish off with the Dulux and a bit of dry brushing. I use polytex because it's easier than mixing sand & PVA glue, and (again) it comess off the household budget.
Moral: It isn't that hard to do, nor that long, if you have the tools and the space to do it. That's what's great about being a Grown Up.

Saturday, 28 November 2009

Aligning with the Rules

We met as usual for our game on Friday. It was unusual in that we had a guest, and also in that one of our rarer contributors put on a multi-player game, which was a nice change.

We were blessed with the right number of players turning up, and played a Greeks v Persians game using Armati 2. The twist in the scenario was that the Greeks were deployed in a cornfield that obscured all vision of them (our resident Bronze Age expert confirmed this was correct, - corn* was much taller in ancient times). This neutralised the Persian archery to some extent, and also their predominance in numbers as they couldn't be sure where the Greeks were.

The game played through in an interesting fashion, although we ran out of time unfortunately. As the particularly inept Persian leader I was saved by my skillful deployment of sixes when my opponent was rolling ones. In accordance with my heading for this blog, that's as much of a battle report as you'll get.

The inter & post game discussion got me to thinking. I haven't played Armati for a while, but it is about my favourite set of Ancient rules. It's what got me into ancient wargaming (along with Hat plastic soldiers). It's also the only set of rules I've ever played with in a tournament. I've always felt that it pretty much gives you the best historical feel and outcome of any set of rules except.....

I'm reminded of a remark in a Wargamers Newsletter by Don Featherstone. This was along the lines of some of the best games he'd ever played were where he didn't know the rules, but could concentrate on playing historically. I've always wanted that to be true but I just don't get it.

The problem is (and this is where we pick up on the "except" from above) two fold. Firstly, Aramti is a pretty simple set of rules, but even it has details you have to know to play effectively. Secondly every set of ancient rules contains the rule writers view on history, - things such as how manoeuvrable infantry are, the relative speed of troops moving to number of bow shots.

To take the first point. Every rule system has optimum tactics. This isn't gamesmanship, it just does. In Armati it is important exactly where troops are when you launch a flank attack or you simply won't get the benefit. If you don't realise that you can get a shock when you end up effectively in a frontal engagement with your cavalry (for example) when you thought you'd caught the hoplites in the flank.

Second point. If your view of history doesn't coincide with the game designer, you're toast. I'm reminded of a game set in 19th Century India I played in where the umpire/designer had a very different view to me on how good British Army Sikhs were in hand to hand combat (me, I rate them up there with Highlanders). So I kept using them as shock troops and couldn't work out why I was getting nowhere. Ho hum.

Which is a long way round to saying that I should have refreshed myself on the rules before he game instead of deploying my army into a traffic jam where all my units got in each other's way.

Doubly so if I take up President Steele's invitation to an SoA Championship game using them. I could be in for a thrashing.

* As in wheat type, not maize

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Bloggin' whilst the paint dries

This evening has been rescued from what looked like complete disaster. I thought I would get an early night, and was bunking off out of the office, laptop stowed, when I got the "'ere Treb" call from the boss' office.

Now he's a really nice bloke, but he's out and about a lot so how was I to know he was in his office at that time of night as I walked past. Anyhow he has a number of business and staffing issues he wants me to clarify for him. We agree that people cause problems and that an AK47 (the gun not the game) is probably the best answer for a lot of things. (He tends to run the department based on the last war movie he watched. The Band of Brothers phase went on for a long, long, time). So that's half an hour gone, although in fairness it was important and it is what I get paid for (yup, Grown Ups do have to deal with Real Life, don't they?) so I shouldn't complain.

When I eventually get in I find I've forgotten that Mrs Trebian has a Guide Association District meeting but that she doesn't need transport from me, so after a swift evening meal it's up to the desk for a bit of guilt free painting.

I've now got a couple of ECW infantry regiments on the go, and I'm waiting for the jacket colour to dry. They will be a green and a blue regiment, because I like green and blue. I'm reminded again of how little we know about most ECW regiments as I slap the acrylics on.

The last post, - about Battleground - required me to slog my way through a large collection of old hobby magazines. I knew the programme was late 1970's, and I was sure it was in "Military Modelling". However having flicked through 1977 - 1979 I still hadn't found it, so I went through "Battle" and sure enough there it was.

The thing about flicking through mags like this is that it's never a short task. Before long your eye falls upon the odd interesting article and advert (new minifig winged hussars!) and you end up reading most of a magazine you haven't picked up in 20 years (nope, don't throw much out. Drives Mrs T nuts).

Anyway there was a multi part article about standards of the English Civil War in MM at about this time. It comes over as really authoritative, - nice big A4 page with loads of flags on it. But then I realise that actually it's about 5 or 6 flags from each regiment, - ie Colonel's standard, majors, first captain etc. Seeing as the differentiation is just in the number of insignia on it I have to say I'm cheated. You don't need to show all of them to work out what they are like.

I've been trying to model my Parliamentarians on Waller's forces, and the information we have on standards is poor. The best stuff we have is on the defeated Royalist forces at Naseby because so many flags were captured. Books, and magazine articles, just repeat the same flags over and over again. There's so many people who have an interest in selling books on uniforms and standards that few will admit the emperor has no clothes. The best & most honest web resource I've found is on Pete Berry's Baccus 6mm website at:

It's good stuff if you want to know what we really know.

Now back to some painting.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Edward Woodward & Battleground

A little bit of a different topic for this one (although researching and writing it has got in the way of finishing off my ECW dragoons).

Following Edward Woodward's recent death, Bob Cordery at "Wargames Miscellany" posted a moving tribute. In this Bob referred to a programme Woodward fronted called "Battleground" which was made by Tyne Tees Television in 1978. Bob had never seen it, but I did, - probably because it wasn't shown on all ITV franchises. I don't think I saw all of them, - they were shown at odd times and this was before video recorders. (I have a feeling they were shown at lunch time and it depended whether my free periods meant I was at home, - I was in Sixth form at the time).

As it was probably the first programme to put figure wargaming on the TV I thought those of you out there in the wargaming blogosphere might be interested in a bit more background. Most of this information comes from a back issue of the short lived Battle Magazine, written by Terry Wise.

6 programmes were made and first broadcast in the North East. Woodward hosted each programme, giving a bit of background to the battle. He didn't play in any of the games. The games were actually fought out by people who either were, or have now mostly become, well known wargaming personalities, with a few exceptions. The programmes were:

Edgehill (first shown 23/02/1978)
Fought between a pre magazine editing Duncan Macfarlane and John Tilson, both them from the Hull club (selection influenced as the show was made in the North East? Who can say.)

Waterloo (first shown 09/03/1978)
Peter Gilder's first appearance on the show, fighting John Braithwaite "from the Hull area". Probably used Peter's figures from the Callan film.

Battle of the Nile (first shown 23/03/1978)
A Naval game fought out between two Halifax club members, Steve Birnie & John Harrison. (Steve Birnie had recently published a set of 18th Century Naval Rules at the time, although whether that was before or after the show I don't know).

Chalons sur Marne (first shown 30/03/1978)
Featuring Steve Davidson and the legendary Bob O'Brien.

France, 1944 (first shown 20/04/1978)
An imaginary game set in Northern France after D-Day. It was fought out between the author Gavin Lyall, and his son, Bernard. This was about the time that Lyall had published his own set of wargames rules called "Operation Warboard", which were used on the show.

Gettysburg (first shown 27/04/1978)
This was fought between Dr Paddy Griffith ("Senior Lecturer at Sandhurst") and Peter Gilder, using, I think, the figures from the Callan film. This was before Paddy founded WD and started his move away from using toy soldiers.

All the figures and terrain was provided by Peter Gilder, except for the WW2 game which was staged by Gavin Lyall.

It's quite a list of players, - but it is also notable for those who are missing. Phil Barker, Tony Bath and Charles Grant are all missing and were all considerably better known at the time than most of those who took part, as, of course, was Don Featherstone. Maybe they just failed the auditions, which covered "over a hundred wargamers". Amongst the non-appearing advisers on the programme was Charles Wesencraft and David Chandler.

My memories of the programme are that it was a noble attempt to make the hobby look interesting, but at the end of the day the figures don't move, and there's only so much you can do with blowing smoke across the table and playing drumming in the background.

My only recollection of the commentary is that in one game I think Gilder says something like "roll two dice, and you don't want any sixes", to which a po-faced voice over from Woodward remarks "he is joking, - he actually needs sixes".

I may have tracked down the original producer. I've e-mailed her and if she answers any of my questions, I'll post an update, but it could be in quite a while!

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Take That, Real Life!

Hah Hah!

Managed to find half an hour this afternoon to finish the painting on the ECW dragoons. All they need is varnish and I can start to base.

Didn't think I'd get a chance today, so that's a real victory. Actually, if I can squeeze in 10 minutes after dinner this evening I'll probably get the varnish done. That means I'll be able to glue them to the bases just before I go to bed (assuming sober enough).

Which means I can polyfilla first thing tomorrow.

Could have them finished by the end of the weekend.

Why I love Wargaming

There I am, just packing up work on a Friday evening and someone says "Treb, I think we have a problem....". Sure enough we have a problem. But it's gone 5pm, so there's nothing we can do to fix it. All I can do is tell the relevant people to expect some problems next week, then go home. Not a brilliant end to a not brilliant week (note lack of postings....can't even blog about not painting, let alone paint).

Any how, get home and have dinner - pizza & the latest couple of episodes of Scrubs - then layout the table for this evening's game. Due to illness with one of our members we have a last minute change of venue to my dining room. This is great as it means I don't have to rush round to get stuff ready to go out. However, it does mean I have to rush round to set the table up.

We have a yahoo group to discuss what we're going to play (It's called the Monday Night Group, even tho' we meet on a Friday), and so we've decided we're going to play RFCM's PBI. As I get to set up and chose the toys I have proposed a bit of Burma, - XIVth Army v Japanese.

I struggle a bit with the set up as I don't actually own a copy of PBI (I bought the earlier version and haven't upgraded). Plus my dining room table table isn't 4' x 4', the standard size for PBI. You may have guessed by now that we don't always play games "straight". We have a number of house rules for PBI. The one that really moves the game along is that we roll the Motivation and AP dice together, and get to chose which dice we use for which. We get fewer failed motivations, and more usable APs. It reduces the game's "FQ" considerably*.

Anyway, I set up light jungle with a dried up river bed running through it and a couple of huts. The huts are Peter Pig, the trees are that fish tank matting you get in per super stores, cut up into sections and glued on drink mats. The river bed/road started life as the back of an old MFI wardrobe now cut up into sections (advantage of being a Grown Up, - you get to cut up furniture with a power saw. I'll do a post on terrain building at some point).

I then put out a couple of platoons on each side, the Brits (actually Africans) got a couple of Grants as well (Rajputs). The Japs got a couple of infantry guns. Figures are all Peter Pig, the tanks are Old Glory, because Mr Pig doesn't make Grants (I won't ask him to make any now as I've got some).

Out of our group of about 6 we had a turn out of 3, including me. Which was good as the other two had the rules.

We played for about 2 hours, and didn't completely finish. My Japanese had taken a bit of a pounding, but had put in a couple of spectacular bayonet charges. And I seriously duffed up on of the Grants. The XIVth were probably closing in for the kill, as one of my infantry guns had gone poof! and I was running out of anti-tank equipment.

Anyway, that's not the point of the post. The point is I sat down for an evening with two good friends, had a couple of cups of coffee/tea discussed life, the universe & everything and had a pleasant game. No edginess, no win-at-all cost tactics, no shouting across a noisy room. Just a really nice evening. Wargaming can create that environment, - the game fills in when the conversation drops, we share opinions and views and discuss our mutual interests.

By the end of the evening I've completely unwound, the troubles of the day pretty much gone.

Then just as we're packing up and saying good bye my mobile goes off. It's my boss's boss. "Trebian, - what about this issue, - is it our fault and what have you done about it?"

Blast. Back to Real Life.

*FQ is "Frustration Quotient". It refers to the rules in a game that seem to be just designed to wind players up. In PBI you roll to motivate, then roll to see what you can do (Action Points, or "APs". This gives you the situation where you can roll a high number when you motivate (when you only needed a low number) and then a low number for APs which means even tho' you motivate a unit it still does nothing. I've played entire straight games where units resolutely refuse to do anything. It may be realistic, but it isn't always fun. Having said that, I do love the odd game of PBI .

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Real Life (Part 5)

Everything is backing up again. Went out to dinner last night with young Master Trebian who is down from Uni for the week ( we all had a great time once we'd got ourselves moved from the table next to the door), so no painting then.

I thought I'd catch up an hour or so this evening whilst Mrs Trebian was out running her Brownie Pack. Then the daylight bulb in my anglepoise lamp blew out. Unfortunately it's a screw in bulb & I don't have a spare. Young Miss Trebian kindly lent me the one out of her bedside lamp, but it's a reflector bulb. My, that gets hot, so I'd just managed to paint about 10 muskets before I could smell burning and had to turn the lamp off. I could swap all of the various lamps in the house around, but that means undoing all the cabling. Hopefully I'll be able to pick up a replacement bulb at the weekend. I won't be able to get out at lunchtime to buy one tomorrow and Friday is Children in Need day, so lunchtime will be compulsory enjoyment

Ah well, the week is half gone and most of the DIY is finished so maybe I'll get an hour or two at the toys this Sunday.

Except we have a tree surgeon coming on Friday, so I'll probably spend the weekend clearing up sawdust and stray branches.

Ho hum.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Sunday Morning DIY

I sometimes wish I was a bit more rubbish at DIY. I mean it isn't a problem for blokes these days. I've got a couple of blokes who work for me who don't know one end of a screw driver from the other and it causes them no personal pain.

Me, however, I'm just about competent. I can build flat pack furniture fairly smartly. I can hang shelves on walls and I even made an extension for my wargames tables with folding legs. However to be honest it isn't really my thing. Take today for example. We had our downstairs cloakroom refitted a month or two back. All that was left to do was hang a mirror on the wall and replace the ceiling light fitting.

Now, if I was completely rubbish at DIY I'd not even try the latter job. I'd call an electrician and wait 6 weeks for him to turn up. Six weeks when I could happily sit and paint toy soldiers confident in a job that will eventually be well done. However, being me I got the fittings, screw drivers, insulating tape and so on and got going first thing this morning.

Of course nothing looks the same as the books when you take it apart, and so I spent 2 1/2 hours taking the fittings apart and re-assembling them . This one is different to all the ceiling fittings in the house and garage because of where it sits in relation to the out door light. Plus the YTS kid who did the electrical work on the house didn't label up the cable for the light switch. At various points I had:

1) No working lights at all down stairs
2) Working light in hall, but no others
3) Downstairs lights working properly but cloakroom light not working
4) Downstairs lights working properly but unable to turn off cloakroom light

I eventually finished off just after lunch, but an entire morning's painting and rule writing has gone, never to be recovered. Anyway, thank goodness for modern isolation switches, although I'm proud to say I never turned the power on at any point and have the switch trip.

So that's why my dragoons still languish on the desk part way through stage 3.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Land of the Giants

Now, I'm a fairly easy going sort of chap.

Actually, that isn't true. I'm sort of a bloke who has a bit of a temper and a tendency to go off on one. However, my employer has paid for me to go on self awareness training so at least I'm aware that I'm not an easy going chap and can recognise in myself when I'm going to lose it and so can control any outbursts and so on.

However sometimes you see something and it just sort of tips you over the edge a bit. Apparently, according to Nicholas Holmes in "Arquebusier" magazine "28mm is now well established as the scale of choice for most wargamers".

Since when? Now I have armies in most scales from 6mm up to 25mm, but my 28mm collection is limited to stuff I've won at Society of Ancients events and is only fit for skirmish gaming (pictures of these, which I think are Gripping Beast illustrate this blog). And when I start a new period my thoughts do not immediately turn to 28mm. Mostly I turn to 15mm (especially if Peter Pig has a range) or 20mm plastics from Hat & Zvezda. These win on speed of painting, transportability and realism in that you can field lots of units with reasonable numbers of figures in them.

I accept I'm not like a lot of wargamers, but do "most wargamers" now gravitate towards 28mm figures? I sincerely hope not.

I have a number of problems with 28mm figures. In fact I have a number of problems with the large figure culture that has sort of spilled out from Games Workshop. Firstly they seem to have killed off genuine 25mm figures, so I can't add to my existing armies.

Secondly there's the painting style we're all obliged to adopt now, with the multiple layers and tones are then the specially graded cans of overpriced varnish (honestly, - go and buy some Ronseal). They make figures look as genuine as David Dickinson's suntan.

Thirdly there's the look of them. I did a quick check on Wikipedia but I can confirm that anabolic steroids were introduced in the late 1930's (allegedly the Nazi's tried to use them to produce an Aryan super race), consequently the stocky, over muscled figures many manufacturers produce can't be justified in any way. People simply do not look like that*. Have a look at Warlord Games stuff, in particular the ECW figures. They're well built, fit looking, carrying the sort of bulk that sad sim-world players put on their avatars. And the faces! Only Noel Fielding of the Mighty Boosh comes close to looking like many of these figures which appear to have hada face transplant from a flat iron. Then check out the length of the arms (which would barely reach pockets), and whether or not they have a neck.

I could go on, - there's the complete disregard for scale in the clothing they wear, which features jackets the thickness of a plank. There's the idea that flags are likewise made out of a peculiar type of cloth that is 2" thick.

Still, I'm a lone voice in the wilderness on this one apparently and as the hobby is a broad and hopefully tolerant one we can all live side by side.

However I take exception to the expression of opinion as fact, and the underlying assumption that bigger is better.

*Ironically to my mind the best proportioned 28mm figures I've ever seen were Harlequin's original series Dr Who figures. Lovely proportions and body shape.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

If it's not one thing...

So I thought I'd have a fairly clear run this week. Swept up the leaves in the garden at the weekend and finished off some DIY.

And now I've got a cold. Nothing serious, just your average coughs and sneezes. It's not like I feel really ill, - still going in to work for example, it's just that it is so inconvenient.

The moment you pick up a paint brush to start anything your nose starts off again and you're rummaging for tissues or a handkerchief with a wet paintbrush in the other hand. And coughing when you're not expecting it puts blobs of paint where you don't want them even if you're using as basic a painting technique as I use.

So the ECW artillery is perched on the desk one stage from completion and the dragoons are part way through blocking in and not looking like being finished for a day or so. That'll put me even further behind the painting schedule as I've got a couple of days off at the weekend so I'll be off doing Christmas shopping or whatever.


Ah well, it could be worse I suppose, but being ill isn't half as much fun when you're a Grown Up. It's not like when you were at school and you could spend the day in bed being fed and reading back copies of the "Victor" or the latest "Commando" comic, or trying to develop a 54mm skirmish game that works on the bed whilst you're still in it.

Of course in those days there was no daytime TV to distract you or videos so you got so much more done when you were off school.

Now, I'm off to give those dragoons another go. Sniff.

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Real Life (Part 4b)

Hands have stopped shaking now, so I can finish basing those PP ECW dragoons (not much to do, - just the green paint on the polyfilla/sand once it has dried properly).

Did manage to finish my CoW report on the latest President Jog-Jog game, - virtually 4 months to the day since it was player. I can't remember much of it, but the pictures look okay.

Here's one of him surrounded by what remains of his personal guard having just piled out of his brewed up command carrier (just visible spewing hamster bedding smoke at the top of the picture). He seems to be under close assault from a unit of the Wha-Li's camel riding fanatics.

There's also a technical poking its nose in top left. My recollection is that there was much confusion everywhere, and I'm not sure who finally did for the President.

Although if I recall correctly, they never did recover his body.

Real Life (Part 4)

The replacement leaf blower came earlier in the week, so I spent an hour or so alternately blowing leaves into big heaps then sucking them up into little pieces. Deeply satisfying in some ways, although also futile. I have a very large tree in my garden and it does have a lot of leaves. There are more to come down, the compost bin is full, the recycling bin is full and the green waste bags for going to the tip are full.

Hence no painting this morning.

I've now sat down the paint and the blasted thing has given me muscle spasms in both arms & hands. Can barely smear polyfilla onto bases, let alone do even the basic colour blocking. This is not a good thing.

Added to that my new mobile phone / e-mailing thingy has just defaulted back to factory settings, and I can't work out how to retrieve any of my contacts. Back to see the phone lady at work on Monday.

Sometimes being a grown up is a pain.

Oh, - I also returned my standalone hard drive to the manufacturers this morning as it kept losing its file registry and shutting down. What do you do when your back up stops working?

Friday, 6 November 2009

Wargaming, Gaming and The Press

I had that occasionally odd experience this week of opening the paper and seeing a photo of someoneI know.

What made it odder was that it wasn't a picture of an old school chum in the crime section either.

The Independent ran a big piece in its lifestyle supplement about the Essen game fair, and there, large as life, was fellow WD member Martin Wallace of Treefrog games. Here's the link:

Now, it is a good article, well written and very fair in its coverage of the boardgaming arm of our great hobby. Martin gets a good press too, as the article is mainly hung around his presence and how he has muscled his way to the game designer's top table.

But, alas, the media can't help but play with us. For those who know him, Martin designs cleverly structured games that require real thought and careful strategy from the players (he's rubbish at playing matrix games tho' but that's a story for another time). However, under Martin's picture, showing him standing proudly in front of piles of his games is the large, pullout quote saying

"There's a game that involves one player trying to build a Jenga-like structure from wooden blocks, while their opponent bashes them over the head with an inflatable club. It's called Argh!Tect"

You will not be surprised to hear that isn't one of Martin's, but I can't wait to ask him for a copy when I see him at CoW next year.

I am reminded of my one and only encounter with the local paper when the club I was then with was trying to promote a local wargaming open day. The photographer arrived, and his opening gambit was "Okay then, who want's to wear the dragon suit?" (Yes that is DRAGON as it the fire breathing flying thing, not DRAGOON as in the mounted infantry man)

This took us back a bit, but sure enough he had called in at a fancy dress hire shop on the way and hired a stuffed dragon costume. We all refused to wear it, but it ended up propped at the side of the table in the photo looking as miserable as only an un-worn fancy dress costume can do.

I still wait to be convinced that it made anyone extra turn up to the show.

I mean grown ups playing with toy soldiers is daft enough as it is. We don't need any help to look foolish.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Painting Toy Soldiers (Fourth and Last)

The final stage with the figures is what to do with them once they are painted.

For 15mm figures my current solution is slim file boxes. They aren't as cheap as the deep ones, but they are pretty much the perfect size and depth as long as you don't have cavalry with upright lances.

I divide the boxes up with strip wood, - 6mm x 30mm I think (look, I just go into Bill's hardware shop and buy the stuff from the same place, - I can't carry sizes in my head). Applying Grown Up rules this isn't hard to do. Don't faff around doing this on your work desk. I use a B&D Workmate with a tenon saw and a mitre block to cut the stuff up, and I glue it in place with Evostick woodglue. If I've left all the boxes for an army 'til last I even use a powered jigsaw to cut the wood. It's quick, neat & accurate.

This method doesn't take long, and produces robust, lightweight storage. I finish the boxes off with inlays with regiment/unit names in them (DTP on laptop) so that anyone can put them away properly and then label top, front & side with the army name & contents.

It all sounds a bit anal but in the long run it saves time.

As the areas for the figures are made to measure I have very few problems with movement in transit, even tho' I don't use magnabase.

So, in summary, I can't paint but all my stuff is finished and sorted out. Beat that.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Painting Toy Soldiers (3)

Take that Real Life! Yesterday's gloomy prognostication proved to be wrong as today didn't go to bad. Whole stack of stuff had to be done, whole stack of stuff duly done. Out of the office by 5:45pm.

So, final stages. From here on it all becomes very easy (Painting Toy Soldiers, that is, not Real Life). Once the polyfilla and sand have dried off, - probably takes overnight, - it only really needs a coat of basing paint. As you can see from the picture I paint my bases with Dulux, which I also use to paint my wargames table, scenery bases and anything else that needs to be grass colour. That way I get a reasonably consistent look.

Another advantage is that if you know the colour number (post a comment of you want to know the number for this shade) you can go back again and again for a pot the right colour. And it is so much cheaper than any type of model paint, and honestly it's often a better quality, more consistent and not in need of stirring or anything like that.

Any how, I've been going on about this for years, and no one has come up to me and said "What a great idea!". I even have another favourite shade for sandy bases. I have to admit this isn't really my idea either. It was recommended to me when I met Terry Wise at a northern wargames show, and I wasn't grown up enough to take him seriously (great bloke Terry, - I met him through WD & corresponded for a few years. Then lost touch, - easy to do in the pre-Facebook era).

Finally I dry brush over the top with a light brown to give the bases a bit more depth, and then I'm done. The result won't ever win prizes, but at least it gets the job done.

There's one last point to make, but alas I'm out of time for a number of real world reasons. Catch up tomorrow.

Monday, 2 November 2009

(Not) Real Life (Part 3)

The irony of not painting any toys this evening because I was contributing to a blog describing how I don't really get round to painting toy soldiers is not lost on me.

Plus Dollhouse looks like it is shaping up nicely, even if it has that unpleasant sicko male fantasy taste to it.

But if my wife & 20 something daughter approve of it, it must be alright.

Painting Toy Soldiers (2)

Despite Sean Clarke trying to steal my thunder in a shameless fashion, here's part two of the Trebian Method.

Basically Sean has the same aim as me, - getting from raw metal to varnished army in as short a time as possible. Personally I think he is wrong on undercoating, - the black emulsion paint gives me a good surface to paint on and is quick and cheap.

Any how, next stage is the simple blocking in. Selecting what to paint is key. You do not have to paint everything, just so long as all of the figure is covered in paint, and that the various bits that should be different colour are.

What differentiates various armies are surprisingly few if 15mm. For Colonial forces painting in cross belts in white is essential, for WW1, less so. For these ECW cavalry I did basic horse colour & saddle cloths (no edging) and horse furniture. The men have buff coats, jackets, back/breast plates, boots, cross belts, gauntlets, weapons and faces painted in. For sheer bravado I painted in shiny stirrups. The signature colour on these tho' is the red on the sashes.

It is important to note at this point that I do not mix colours if I can at all avoid it. I end up wasting loads of paint and if I ever want to paint any more figures I can never get the exact same colour.

If you are painting in a warm room using acrylics and don't paint colours next to each other until they are dry you can do all of this in an evening.

Anyhow, this is what they look like at this stage, - nothing spectacular, and well within the capabilities of even the busiest grown-up. Note the use of the upturned box lid for display purposes.

The secret ingredient for the next stage is Ronseal Quick Drying Wood Varnish, - Antique Pine.

It took me a while to be converted to the benefits of shiny figures, but this stuff does it for me. It protects and shades the figures all in one go and it is dry enough in 20 minutes to pull the figures off the stick and base them up.

What's more, it is quite reasonably priced compared to that Army Painter stuff, which only proves that you can sell pretty much anything to some wargamers, regardless of how good it is.

As I said the Ronseal dries in 20 minutes, and it is virtually odourless. And as an added advantage for grown-ups you can actually use it to varnish wood panels round the house should you need to, so the expense comes off the household not the wargaming budget.

With the drying speed you can move to the next phase, - basing - in the same evening. I used to make my own bases out of 2mm ply or mounting board but frankly I can't cut straight and it takes too long. Accordingly I have bags of pre-cut bases on one of my zamba shelves to save wasting time faffing about. I use Peter Pig plastic bases mostly, but for DBx style bases I use 2mm mdf from QRF. For individual figures I tend to use 2ps.

To stick them down I use Evo-stick PVA wood adhesive (again costed against the DIY budget). To finish the bases off (once dry - and here I suggest you do not hurry the PVA, but let it dry overnight) I cover them with polyfilla, or something similar. The picture shows a pot of Mangers Ready Mix All Purpose Filler that sells at £2.25 for 600g in my local village hardware shop. I then put them in the sand tray (visible on the right) for final texturing. Plus it speeds the drying process.

Okay, enough for now. To much text, not enough jokes.

Catch up with the third and final phase tomorrow night. Or most likely not, as tomorrow at work has a whole enormous pile of real life stacked up in it.