Monday, 27 June 2011

Time flies by (redux)

Today the nice man from Parcelforce brought a large padded envelope filled with my second order of the Teamsterz toy trains that I mentioned in this post. If you've been following the blog, you may remember that a similar toy train listing on Amazon turned out to be the same toy, and that as a result I had two matching tank engine & carriage sets. By that time I'd already ordered two more of the Tank Engine sets plus one "Locomotive" set from the original supplier and was gambling somewhat on getting a useful mix of rolling stock.

I got lucky! Here's my railyard as it stands..

One of the "tank engine" sets turned out to be the green tank engine & carriage (still boxed in photo). The other turned out to be the blue locomotive & tender that matches the two carriages I have from the original two tank engine sets. The combination makes for a perfect wargaming train - not too long and not too short.

Now I'm far from a steam railway expert, but after 10 minutes with Google & Wikipedia here's what I can tell you.

Let's start with the terminology - a tank engine like this one carries its own water supply in an on-board tank, rather than in a separate fuel & water carriage or "tender". This model is what's called a "saddle tank" design, which means the water tank sits on top of the boiler like a saddle on a horse. If you look closely you can see that in this picture, the gold striped section is the tank. The wheel arrangement is 0-4-0, meaning four powered wheels, with no leading or trailing wheels. 0-4-0 saddle tank engines like these were the workhorses of the steam railways, being very commonly used on industrial lines, but also as shunters and general utility engines. Because the position of the water tank gave them a high centre of gravity, they were limited to slower speeds, and had a more limited range than the tender locomotives. On the other hand, tank engines were generally capable of travelling backwards at the same speed as forwards, something the tender locomotives couldn't do. The tank engine model comes with a passenger carriage in matching livery and if you're not too fussy, one set of these would make a perfectly acceptable "train" for wargaming purposes, representing a short haul local route, or possibly an improvised troop transport.

Now realistically, express trains or those travelling any sort of distance would be drawn by a tender locomotive, with a larger supply of coal and water carried in a tender. This 4-4-0 wheel arrangement was known as "The American" because it was so common on US engines, however it was also very common here in the UK. The Teamsterz model has a bit of an identity crisis. Generally it looks more European in style (to my untrained eye at least) but at the front features a US style "cow catcher" or "pilot" as it's more properly known. I don't know about other countries, but I've never seen pictures of these fitted to British steam trains.
This green locomotive came in the slightly cheaper "Locomotive" pack, but sadly it came without a tender. No good for the steam purist then, but if you're stuck with several carriages and want to make sure you have a "big engine" to pull them, this is the way to get one for sure.

Oh and by gad, those are some ugly red wheels! They'll need some work before this engine ever hits the wargame table.

Now this locomotive & tender actually came as a "Tank Engine" pack. So my main train represents the contents of three such packs combined together, for about £18. Not too bad.

Obviously ordering blind online via Amazon, you're taking pot luck with what you get. You might try keeping an eye on the pound stores for these, since as I mentioned previously they really are crap as toys, or scale models for that matter. You might also try contacting the seller and seeing if they'll let you specify which sets they send you. But personally I quite enjoyed the thrill of the "lucky dip", and a few spare carriages opens up the possibility of kitbashing and converting.

Here are the two Amazon links. Check them both out. Look at the third party sellers and work out who gives you the best deal, as that may change with time. Beware the cunning fellow who offers a bargain price of 29p, then charges five pounds for postage (although that's still a reasonable price, I refuse it on principle!)

Sunday, 26 June 2011

Good day today

First off I want to thank those of you who are following this blog already, despite there being little more than inane waffle here so far.

Today was a productive day. Before lunch I started preparing the horses for the cavalry and assembled the German 77mm guns. After lunch Jonesy came round and we had an enjoyable and productive figure painting session with first The Four Feathers (1939) and then Gunga Din (1939) playing in the background. J0nesy finished off the Germans I'd 80% completed, started on a second unit and quickly drybrushed the Design 28 Miniatures "Iron Men" for the "Evil League Of Evil" army, while I slogged away at two units of Parroom Station "Masked Minions" for the same. Another couple of hours ought to get the Masked Minions table ready, so I can get back to working on the British Guardsmen.

I've been thinking further on the possibilities of the Portable Wargame with the Heroscape terrain, and its inherent disadvantages. For 20th Century games in 15mm, I think most vehicles will be too big for the Heroscape hexes. This rather rules out the Russian Civil War, VBCW or other interwar games, unless I switched to 1/200 or smaller. The other option would be to go for a set of Hexon terrain with 10cm hexes, with which I could just about fit an 8x8 grid on my coffee table. I am giving serious thought to rebasing all my individually based 15mm 19th century minis into 30mm elements to make them more suitable for use with Heroscape. The downside is that this would make them less suitable for other games I use like Soldiers' Companion, The Sword And The Flame or GASLIGHT. But I'm leaning towards playing those games in 28mm as they were intended, and saving 15mm for the mass battles/compact battles using The Portable Wargame. Otherwise I'm going to be collecting to be able to run similar style games (large skirmishes with individually based figures) in two different scales. And that's highly inefficient.

The final bit disadvantage of the Heroscape terrain is that it's highly biased towards green tiles. There are precious few sand coloured tiles in the set. I feel the need to buy another full set and repaint the hexes to allow some decent sized desert battles.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

I has wargamed. Huzzah!

After a week of hard slogging at the painting table on the 28mm VSFs I decided it was time for a break. So this morning I dug out the Heroscape terrain I bought last week, printed off a copy of Mr Robert Cordery's "Portable Wargame" rules, picked up Programmed Wargames Scenarios by CS Grant and turned to Scenario #1 Hill Defence. In true Cordeguayan fashion, the forces were hastily cobbled together from whatever boxes of 15mm I had to hand, so in the end a Red force of 19th Century/WWI Russians faced off against a Blue force manned by WWI French with some British Colonial Lancers on loan. Grant's book offers the gamer a choice from several different forces for each scenario, but rather than mess about too much with the troops I just took the first option for each side. This gave Red a force heavy in Cavalry, but Blue had two guns, which I decided to take as machine guns.

Being the first time I'd used the Heroscape hexes in anger, I spent a little time experimenting. I worked out that the largest tiles in the set fit together to form a rectangle, and eight of these rectangles (which was all the large green tiles I had) created a 16x18 play area that nicely filled about 2/3 of my coffee table. After a bit of experimenting I then got the hang of replacing some of the large tiles with combinations of smaller ones to allow wooded areas of different colours. The sand tiles make fine woods, with a couple of small trees scattered about for visual effect. Roads were simple enough to do with masking tape and I could have easily used the Heroscape pieces to create a river across this size terrain but this scenario didn't call for it. Finally, I had absolutely no buildings appropriate to western Europe, so a colonial hut had to stand in. (I have already hit Amazon to order a "town in a bag" which I think is perfect for this level of game.)

I decided to take on the attack as Red, so the forces were laid out according to the charts in the book.
With Blue having those MGs on the flanks, I decided to try a big cavalry attack on my left to try to sweep that gun away. A single cavalry unit was left on the right to demonstrate and draw the attention of the Blue cavalry if need be. As it happened, the Blue tactics rolled from the book indicated that they would hold their position and not deploy their reserve under any circumstances.

So for the first couple of turns, the Field Gun kept up a constant barrage of the enemy infantry on the edge of the village. Shells went long, peppering the built up area behind them, to no real effect. The two flanking cavalry units proceded forwards as planned, moving swiftly up the road. Since the enemy cavalry didn't seem to be responding I decided to take a chance with my right cavalry and found they could make it into close combat with the MG without having to endure a round of fire first. The cavalry charged home, at a slight disadvantage due to the slope, but both sides dice came out a 6 - no result. The cavalry were forced to recoil a hex away leaving them vulnerable in the open. On the left flank, the large cavalry brigade were unable to make contact, and so spread out along the road parallel to the Blue lines, ready to charge the MG in the following round.

On Blue's activation, the MGs were able to wreak havoc on the exposed cavalry. The lone Red cavalry unit on the right was cut down, while one of the units on the left also fell. Blue took the opportunity to move one of the infantry units in the town forwards to the T-junction bringing it into range of the cavalry for the following round.

The following round came and the Red gun finally scored a hit, pinning the infantry on the edge of the town. But when the initiative came around, Blue was set to activate first. Another volley of fire took out a second cavalry unit in the brigade leaving only one left. When the activation switched to Red, I decided to try to charge in anyway. This time rather than heading straight up the hill I wheeled and climbed the hill further to the left before swinging back around to hit the MG on the flank. The rest of the activations were spent starting the Infantry on the slow trek forwards.

Rolling for the close combat, I got the exact opposite result to the first combat. Both cavalry and machine gun tore eachother apart. This was the only time a Red unit made it onto the ridgeline, which technically should have triggered a Programmed Response, but since the triggering unit had been instantly destroyed, I decided it didn't count as "in force" since that flank was now completely unthreatened.

With all the Red cavalry gone it was down to the infantry to make the slow slog towards the blue lines. Had Blue gone for Field Guns instead of MGs the infantry wouldn't have had a chance, but they were able to stay out of range of the remaining MG and would only have to endure a couple of turns of rifle fire from the defenders in the centre. Meanwhile the red Field Gun rolled forwards a hex in order to bring the remaining MG into range. It maintained a steady but completely ineffectual barrage for the rest of the game.

After several turns slogging (which passed very quickly, since Blue was effectively unable to act, being out of range) the Red Infantry came within rifle range of the defenders. Over the last two hexes of movement, Blue's volleys took a heavy toll, destroying two of the five attacking units and pinning a third. Finally the two surviving units went in on the left of the village.

Although the assaults were successful in breaking the defending units, one of the attacking units was also destroyed. At this point, with only two infantry units and a Field Gun left, facing an well dug-in opponent in the village with secure flanks, I decided as Red commander that the mission had failed and withdrew in shame.

Looking back, I think the force balancing in Grant's book must assume that Cavalry will be more effective in raw combat power than infantry, whereas in The Portable Wargame that's not the case, Cavalry and Infantry have the same Close Combat power plus Infantry have the advantage of attacking at range. Cavalry's only advantage is its speed. I think you could double the number of cavalry units in the army lists and be more balanced. Alternatively, picking a different army list for the attacker could have made a big difference. Instead of 5 infantry, 4 cavalry and 1 gun I could have had 8 infantry, 2 cavalry and 2 guns, which I think would have had a much better crack at the defence.

It was after setting up the Heroscape terrain and setting out the figures that something clicked almost audibly. I won't call it a lightbulb moment, since that implies some original idea on my part whereas all I'm doing is copying Bob Cordery (who in turn is standing on the shoulders of Morschauser) But there was a sudden and tangible realisation that here was something new with a lot of potential. This style of game, element-based small scale figures on a map-like hexed terrain, seems to be exactly what I want for "coffee table" gaming. The relatively small number of figures makes an experimental delve into other periods quite a reasonable proposition.

The Portable Wargame rules remind me so much of DBA in how they play, while using completely different game mechanics. Indeed I'm getting the same buzz right now from PW that I did from DBA the very first time I played it all those years ago, with the realisation that you could play something that felt like a large battle in a 2ft square terrain in only an hour.

While I was playing, I received a parcel containing another nearly-full set of Heroscape, so I think I could now expand the 16x18 terrain I used for this battle to cover the whole of the coffee table, and still have enough tiles for plenty of hills or a sizeable water feature. So I'm afraid to say this looks like the end for my advocacy of individually based 15mm figures. Once the current 28mm VSF project is completed I can see myself rebasing the 15mm Colonials/ Late 19th, Early 20th Century collection for Heroscape and The Portable Wargame.

Friday, 24 June 2011

Paint on, paint off.

Yesterday I put the finishing touches to the Redoubt Brits, those that I'd undercoated back in 2004 and painted the jackets of seven of them. The painting was finished, the Army Painter Quickshade worked its magic, and the bases were flocked. In addition I finished flocking the new bases of my first unit of Germans, and started painting a second, of which more later. Plus I primed and started the unit of Ironclad Miniatures Guardsmen and primed a third German unit. It's still very early in the painting, but it did seem to be real progress.

Today, that seems to have come apart a little. The second unit of Germans seem to be nothing but trouble. Since my paints from 2004 were in a pretty poor state (I managed to resurrect a few, but some were beyond recovery) I've switched to some much cheaper but generally equally good craft Acrylics. For the gamer on a budget it's a no-brainer - £2.50 for a small pot of paint from a wargaming brand, or £1.80 for a tube of craft acrylics containing four times as much paint. Anyway up until now I'd had no problems with the craft acrylics over a white undercoat, but for some reason the Ultramarine Blue I was using for the German jackets just didn't want to cover well. I had to layer it on heavily, and even then it's very patchy and there seems to be an awful lot of white "missed" spots now it's dried. I soldiered on this morning painting the guns (black and brown) and the equipment belts (black) and got halfway through the unit's collars & epaulettes before having to give up. It just seemed like everything was going wrong with the paint job on this unit of Germans, and I was completely unable to put the paint where I wanted it to be. Weird, I guess some days you just aren't on form.

One thing new I did try was the Army Painter white primer on the Guardsmen and the third German unit mentioned above. If nothing else it's the most powerful spray can I've ever used. The first time I tried using it in the kitchen, with lots of newspaper scattered around. The spray extended well past the recommended 20cm spraying distance and threw up a relatively huge cloud of mist that hung in the air for a long time and threatened to float well outside the newspapered area. The second time I took it outside and sprayed into a box and again it threw up a massive vapour cloud that's given part of the patio area a nice white speckled effect.

Since I've got three more units of Germans awaiting primer, and it's looking like the craft blue acrylic is going to require a time-sucking second coat, I've decided to splash out on a tin of the Army Painter Blue colour primer, and see how that works.

Turning now to the vehicles, I had inherited four medium steam tanks that started life as Atlantis toys (though I watched the film the other day and don't remember seeing this tank in the film - maybe one of the Disney marketeers is a VSF gamer and just wanted some new toys) The previous owner had painted two of them in a WWI camoflage pattern which I wasn't sure I could duplicate, so I decided to try stripping the paint so I could start with four fresh identical models.

Now not long ago I discovered the wonderful paint-stripping properties of Dettol antiseptic. (US readers try Wintergreen) Left overnight it can strip paint from metal or plastic models without damaging the underlying model. More importantly it's significantly less funky than other paint stripping substances (which generally come with dire warning about toxicity, causticity and dire warning about what to do if heaven forbid you get some in your eye - on the other hand, some people gargle with Dettol as a cure for a sore throat). While I've had quite a bit of success using it to strip paint from my old 15mm SF figures, many of which were picked up in dribs and drabs from Bring & Buys and thus have varying paint jobs, it doesn't seem to be working so well on these two plastic tanks. It's weakening the paint all right, but it's turning into a gloopy gel the same colour and consistency as pond scum, which I'm finding quite difficult and time consuming to actually remove from the model. After two 24hr Dettol Baths, there's still plenty of paint clinging to nooks and crannies, and I'm starting to see a noticeable softening and roughening of the plastic, so it looks like I'm going to have to give in and paint over the fragments.

On the bright side, the softened and slightly distorted plastic now looks a lot more cast iron and steampunky than the crisp, injection moulded lines of the original vehicles. Which leads me to wonder if I shouldn't put the two unpainted tanks through a Dettol bath as well, in hope of achieving a similar effect.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Other Parcels & A Head Count

So other parcels today. In addition to the second tank engine I received a pack of WWI German "characters" from North Star Miniatures. They're nice enough, and look like they'll fit in well with my existing figures (about half of which are actually early WWI, from Foundry I think). Two are clearly old Grognards with spectacular beards wearing service caps, one a bareheaded fresh faced youth (this one had a miscast bayonet, which I can live with) and one fairly ordinary chap in Pickelhaube. Since I'm two figures short of an even six line infantry units, the plan is to use these chaps as sergeants spread across various existing units, which not only accounts for any differences in uniform and sculpting style but actually makes their distinctiveness an advantage. The only down side is that these chaps are all cast in running pose, with the rear leg raised and connected to the base by a temporary support. This leaves me with the choice of either living with an unsightly column connecting the rear leg to the base, or cutting it away and being left with a figure that's more vulnerable to being snapped off at the remaining leg.

The third parcel was the cavalry and artillery from Irregular. I'll get to work assembling them tomorrow. One nice touch I've noticed was that the British Lancers come with a separate rifle scabbard that can be fitted onto the horse. Beyond that they're as I described in an earlier post - not spectacular sculpts but incredibly good value and functional. The WWI German Uhlans will past muster as 188x lancers for the Invasion of England, but I'm not sure what to do about converting the British Lancers to Home Service uniform, as being created for Zulu War use they come with Wolseley pattern pith helmet. Someone once described turning a round-headed pin into a helmet spike by sanding it to a point using a Dremel like a lathe, but I've tried that without much success. I have a couple of sacrificial pith-helmeted figures on which I've fixed a short wire pin into the top of the helmet, with a view to sculpting up the spike around it with Milliput, but I'm not sure my sculpting skills are up to the job. In the end I may cheat and just indicate the home service helmet via painting rather than modelling.

The final parcel was a pack of HO/1:87-1:100 model railway automobile models from Everest Models, a seller on eBay. These guys are perfect scale for 15mm figures, looking much better than die-cast cars. The key thing is that even heroic 18mm figures struggle to see over the roof of a typical Hot Wheels car, some even struggling to see over the bonnet/hood. I suspect the nominal HO scale is a little.... flexible shall we say? But in practice these look exactly right, and ordered direct from china are dirt cheap. The casting quality isn't fantasitc, some cars may need a bit of cleaning up around the windows, but other than that they come pre-coloured and ready to play, and since they're made of hard plastic, are relatively easy to hack about for conversions.

One delivery that didn't come via parcel post was the pack of Wargames Factory zombies someone bought for me at Phalanx. That worthy gentlemen came around and we had a most civilised mid-morning tea discussing the disastrous state of British Politics over the last 30 years. After he'd left I got to have a look at the flesh-eating ghouls he'd brought. One happy surprise was that instead of £15 for 24 zeds, which still represents a good deal, the box contained five sprues for a total of 30 zeds at 50p each. Bargain. While listed as 28mm, they are quite slender sculpts, and seem to fit nicely between the Mega Minis and my old GW zombies in size. Between these three ranges, I now potentially have about 86 zombies. I've also got a pack of 50 coming from Victory Force Games as part of a "50 for $50" deal they do periodically. That, and possibly the rest of the Mega Minis Range is as many zombies as I am *ever* going to need for an "All Things Zombie" game. For now though, the zeds all go into the "Later" box.

Apart from all that, today was mainly spent trying to get the unit of Redoubt British Home Service Infantry on my painting table finished. They're 90% there now, with seven of them needing the gold decorations on the helmet doing. It's only now that I'm so close to being finished that I realise their pants are far too light a shade of blue. Every picture I see of home service uniform shows pants that are allmost black, and while the Quickshade will darken the "Ultramarine Blue" shade I used, it won't darken it that much. So I'm going to have to redo the pants on each figure tomorrow, then redo the red trouser stripe, before these are ready for applying sand to the base and then Quickshading. The other figures on the painting table are a unit of Germans that I'd already painted that I'm upgrading the basing of, and a couple of civlians. The Germans just need flocking, while the civilians are ready to be Quickshaded along with the Brits. After that I've got one more unit of Germans primed and ready to paint, and then it's on to Tranche 2 - two more German squads and a unit of Guardsmen from Ironclad Miniatures, all of which are ready and waiting to be taken outside to be primed. I'm still waiting for my order from Ironclad Miniatures, including another unit of Home Service Brits.

Figures to be painted

1 unit (10 figs) of British Guards
1 unit (10 figs) of British Line Infantry
1 unit (10 figs) of British Lancers
2 British field guns (each with 4 gunners)
4 units of German Line Infantry
2 units of German Jagers
2 German 75mm guns (each with 4 gunners)
2 units of "Masked Minions"
2 units of "Iron Men"
Assorted character figures (about a dozen in number)

Considering the unit of Redoubt British I'm just finishing up now took 8 years to complete (albeit with a seven year interlude) then that's a hell of a lot of figures for me to do in six weeks.

Challenge Accepted.

Another Parcelpalooza

More details later, as I'm about to start an online RPG session. However one of the parcels was what I thought was going to be a different train toy to the Teamsterz model, as the packaging looked different and the manufacturer was listed as "Dunlop". What arrived was another Teamsterz tank engine, exactly the same as the one I'd already got, except about a quid cheaper. Looking closer at the product picture, it is a Teamsterz train, but in different packaging, and it appears to be a random mix of the tank engine sets and the locomotive + coal wagon sets.

Ordinarily this would be a bad thing, however it does mean I've got an engine and two matching carriages, which is the bare minimum I wanted for a train, so whatever colours or varieties I get from the second order I placed earlier, it's all gravy.

I don't know if it's just coincidence that I got the same model, or if supplies are limited and the blue tank engine is the only one left. But if you're thinking of buying some of these Teamsterz trains it might be worth taking a chance and purchasing from this "Dunlop" link.

Time flies by...

Yesterday was something of a parcelpalooza. I received the Design 28 Chinese Gorden figure from Phalanx, along with the extra pack of Iron Men I ordered to make up a second unit. Gordon is a lovely figure, wearing the trademark fez. But this is a steampunk Gordon and he appears to be wearing a rivetted steel plastron across his chest and what looks like a very small steam boiler on his back.

The second parcel was an order of 28mm zombies from Mega Minis in the US. Zombies are a bit of an ongoing but low priority project as part of the 28mm Sci-Fi/Street Violence project, so for now these go straight into the "later" box, along with the Wargames Factory zeds someone bought for me at Phalanx. Zombie gamer blogger extraordinare Vampifan has done a thorough review of the whole Mega Miniatures zombie line on his "World of the Undead" blog, so I won't review them in detail here. I will say that the Mega Minis zombies are noticeably smaller than, say the GW Zombies I have currently, and that they are definitely "old school" style sculpts with a few anatomical glitches, but as Vampifan shows they can paint up very nicely and there are some lovely "character" zombies in the set. I bought sets 1 & 2, I'll probably pick up the remaining sets over time, but I don't think I'd be interested in the non-zombie civilian figures.

The third parcel was the prize. One thing I definitely wanted for a 19th century steampunk invasion game was a steam train. Back when I was playing 15mm there was an easy solution to this, as the Thomas The Tank Engine die-cast toy line turned out to be perfectly scaled to 15mm. All you needed to do was hacksaw off the stupid smiley faces, smooth the end with Milliput and repaint. Now in 28mm you'd think that this was going to be even less of a problem. 28mm is generally matched with the model railroading O-scale. If we were in the States this would be fine, O-scale is still popular there for "toy" trains, i.e. being run for sheer pleasure. Unfortunately, here in good old Blighty, O-scale is the domain of the hardcore scratchbuilding scale modeller. You know, the types who hand lathe every scale rivet... and the number of rivets on the model had better damned well match the prototype or else! Don't get me wrong, I have massive respect for the skill and dedication it takes for that sort of thing. But it does mean that you can't just head to Toys R Us and pick up an O-scale trainset that you won't mind being knocked about on the wargames table.

The solution? Ah, are there any of life's problems you cannot solve? The solution is this toy locomotive and this tank engine train set from Teamsterz. The third parcel was the tank engine, ordered a few days ago. Now let's be clear. As toys for actual children, these suck dead donkey balls. No self-respecting five year old is going to be interested in pushing a steam train around the floor, and the construction on these is too flimsy to survive much playroom action. Although described as die-cast, they're only partly metal, with plastic bases and fittings. Oh and the batteries are non-replaceable, so after a while, no more flashing lights and chuffa-chuffa sounds. As fine-scale railroad models... well let's just say that the wheels on the engine appear to be for a different guage to the accompanying carriage.

But as wargames models for 28mm figures, they are absolutely spot on. There's enough detail to look convincing as a train at wargames table distances, but not too much and nothing too fragile that is going to break under normal wargames usage. The scale is listed as 1:55, and seem a perfect match for 28mm figures. These are designed to be pushed along the floor, so lack the flanged wheels needed to fit properly onto track. I suspect with O-gauge track, the train's wheels would sit nicely inside the rails the same way that the 15mm Thomas trains did with HO gauge track. But unfortunately you can't just go down to the local ModelZone and pick up a length of O gauge flexitrack, so as a compromise it'll perch roughly on HO track with its wheels outside the rails, which again looks passable at wargame table distances.

The tank engine I received was blue and came with a single passenger carriage in matching livery. The back of the box shows another identical model in red, plus two locomotives in green and blue with coal carts. For around six quide I'm so happy with this I've ordered two more, plus one of the locomotives. This ought to give enough rolling stock for a decent looking train, plus a couple of spare tank engines that can go into the bitz box and might resurface as part of a steamtank further down the line.

Other than that, yesterday was mainly spent assembling some Armorcast steampunk walkers that I picked up when I visited the states in 2003. These no longer seem to be available on the website, which is a shame because they're lovely models, full of quirky character. I've also started the conversion work on two trucks and two tractors from the Atlantis toy line, which will become the prime movers for the field guns. It would have been nice to have traditional horse drawn guns, but even at Irregular's very reasonable price of £10.50for a four-hourse limber, the expenses can't quite stretch to it at the moment. Finally I'd finished the initial basing on the first tranche of figures for painting, plus an already painted unit of Germans that I'm upgrading to the new standard listed in a previous post.

With everything laid out on the painting table, I'm ready to declare a moratorium...

No new purchases until everything on the painting table is ready for the wargames table.

Today's plan - return to the rivers I started working on Monday, and get my 2nd unit of British Regulars (Redoubt figures) painted up and ready for Quickshading.

Monday, 20 June 2011

What a productive day. Ish

I sit here in medicated agony, after a hard day's toil over MDF and foamcore. Seriously who would have thought building 10' of 4" wide river could be so tiring? I spent most of the afternoon in my elderly father's workshop (which to the untrained eye resembles a fairly ramshackle carport put together by Orks.) Resting on a black & decker workmate with no legs, wielding a jigsaw with parts falling out of it ("I'm sure that bit isn't vital") and realising just how bloody unfit I am these days. I'd cut out and sanded all the river pieces I wanted, but gosh darn it had to give up halfway through gluing on polystyrene strips for the banks when I ran out of hot glue gun glue. Had absolutely nothing to do with the invisible Zulu who was constantly plunging his assegai into my lower vertebrae, oh no.

Before that torment, I had a go with one of Dave Graffam's card model buildings. Instead of building it with card, I printed it out onto regular paper which I've then stuck to a foamcore shell of the correct dimensions. The result is a lot more sturdy than regular card models and didn't take that much longer, so that's a win. I've also done the first stage basing of about half of the German troops I have.

My current basing/figure painting workflow for the 28mm VSF.
1) Glue figure to penny. I chose pennies because they're less intrusive than 25mm slottabases, are weighted to help hold figures upright, and are cheaper than any other basing solution around (use a penny, or spend 10p for a similar sized washer... durrrrrr.)
2) Build up around cast figure base with ready mixed household filler. The idea is to try to blend with the cast base to make it look like the figure is standing on a single penny-sized base.
3) Undercoat the figure. In the past I've happily used car primer, or GW skull white, but I've now got two cans of Army Painter white primer which I'm itching to try.
4) Give the figure a flat, basic paint job. Paint the base area brown. Allow to dry before the next step.
5) Apply PVA glue to the base and dip it into a container of basing sand (I still have an old supply from Games Workshop, but I'm off to my local pet shop to see if I can find aquarium sand that's suitable.
6) Apply Army Painter Quickshade to the figure. I know opinion is sharply divided over "dipping" but to be brutally honest, my painting sucks. I don't actually dip, but apply the shade with a brush. I first tried the technique seven years ago, just before I gave up wargaming, using tinted floor sealant from B&Q and sad to say I think they're the best paintjobs I've ever done. I've tried one figure the other day with Quickshade, and I think the results are even better. One added bonus is that where the Quickshade drains onto the basing sand, it turns it a deep earthen brown, which saves painting it.
7) Apply PVA glue to the sandy base again, this time with the option of leaving a couple of patches untouched, then dip into green flock.

And there you have it. If the green flock wears off in use, it'll reveal either the sand or the brown paint, both of which will look fine on the table. And the actual process is lightning quick, not counting the time waiting for various steps to dry. At the moment I'm holding off from a final spray of matt varnish to de-shine the quickshade, because frankly I think I like the shiny "toy soldier" look, especially for the VSF/Victoriana figures.

It does occur to me that with the handycraft side of things kicking into high gear, I really ought to dig out my digital camera and start getting some pictures on this blog.

Finally, big props to Ian Kay at Irregular Miniatures. Now Irregular don't get a lot of props for their 28mm figures. Their tiny scale 2mm and 6mm figures are highly though of, as are their 42mm "Toy Soldiers" and I found their 15mm colonial & 19th century ranges to be absolutely superb. But the 28s are frankly a bit primitive, with none of the crisp detailing and character of your Foundry or West Wind, or most modern manufacturers. But they are functional and workmanlike, painted up they can look pretty good but more importantly, they're relatively inexpensive. A troop of 10 cavalry work out at half the cost of the other manufacturers I looked at. Having spent far more than I should have in the last few weeks, when I decided I absolutely positively had to have a troop of cavalry and a couple of guns for both Brits and Germans, they were my first port of call.

Anyway I sent Ian the order last night for checking before I PayPal'd him the money. First thing this morning... and I mean first thing as in "not had breakfast yet" early, he mailed me to correct my total (I'd overcharged myself) and confirmed the order was otherwise OK. I Paypal'd him the money, and this afternoon received an email from him saying that the order had been posted today.

That's pretty much a same-day turnaround. I am frankly impressed.

The forces arrayed

After the excitement of Saturday, Sunday was a day of taking stock, planning and gathering of resources.

I've enough infantry on the Prussian/German side to do 6 line and 2 Jager units (based on GASLIGHT's 10-man units). Even with the unit I'm waiting for from Ironclad Miniatures, I can only manage half that many British. I can however put four units together of Masked Minions and Iron Men for the "Evil Genius" force, so if needs be we can have the Redcoats joined by the forces of misunderstood scientific genius Dr Vesuvius (who isn't the lease bit criminally insane, despite the scurrilous lies published about him by the Evening Gazette, shortly before that scandal rag's offices were accidentally burnt down by a freakishly unseasonal lava flow.)

The various vehicles I've got in 28mm divide quite nicely and thematically between the three forces. Britain gets some light tanks, armoured cars and tankettes. Germany gets the heavier A7V tanks and most of the walker type vehicles, while the Evil Genius side gets a selection of robots and weird science weapons.

For terrain, I've settled on a selection of card buildings from Dave Graffam Models. Although designed for Fantasy settings, Dave's models use PDF layers to allow you to customise them with different features and textures, and by selecting brick textures and removing any obvious fantasy elements, they should look fine for VSF. Rather than build them from card, I'm going to paste the printed card facings over foamboard construction to make the buildings nice and sturdy.

The dilemma of how to do cobblestone or paved streets was solved with a trip to B&Q. Several supplliers to resin or latex cobblestone road sections, but they're quite expensive. There is a technique for making your own by creating a "cobblestone stamp" tool and using it to imprint a pattern on sheets of clay, but that's fairly labour intensive. The quick, cheap compromise comes in the form of B&Q's Natural Mosaic Effect vinyl floor tiles for £7.95. That gets you six 1ft square tiles covered in roughly 1/2" to 3/4", irregular simulated stones. It's not perfectly to scale, but it does give a good impression of a cobbled or roughly paved road surface. I'm going to leave to tiles intact to form a larger "town square" and cut the rest in half to give eight one-foot long, six inch wide road sections.

While at B&Q I picked up polystyrene sheets, MDF and paint to start work on rivers and hills, which is going to be today's craft project.

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Alea iacta est

I have now committed to my gaming friends to run/play a G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. game for my birthday in six weeks time. Since I plan to do it in 28mm, that's six weeks to get all the figures based and painted, all the vehicles built and painted and all the terrain constructed. I am effectively starting from scratch and doing this as a solo project, although I do have an offer to help paint figures from mi hermano de la guerra who for the purposes of this blog shall be referred to as Jonesy, (for 'tis his name). Having a deadline, and an expectant audience, is a great way to create focus.

In related news, I managed to persuade Jonesy and the others of the gaming group to miss the first couple of hours of our planned RPG day today and instead go to Phalanx 2011 in St Helens. I won't give you a full review of the show, but it was very well attended for a regional UK show, with a great variety of trade stands and demo games. The stand-out for me (and the closest thing to VSF) was a spectacular "Very British Civil War" game done in 20mm featuring a table that represented the city streets of Liverpool using model railway buildings. I suspect VBCW is in many ways a period for gamers who would play VSF if it weren't for the fictional steam contraptions. Traderwise I was able to give a large slab of money to the nice people from Ironclad Miniatures for some 28mm Grenadier Guards in busbies, and an order for three steam tanks (which they didn't have in stock but offered to send postage free on Monday. I also stopped off at the Design 28 Miniatures stand, where they had their very modest "Steam and Steel" range of VSF miniatures. I picked up enough of their Iron Men figures for a G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. unit, with the idea of using them for an "evil genius" force, to go with the Parroom Station "Masked Minions" and some other steam robots I have kicking around. I also picked up the "Lancashire Tigers" British Infantry. The troops will be difficult to use, since they are wearing WW1/2 style "tin hats" rather than pith helments or Home Service pickelhaubes, but their leader is a gloriously stout monocled chap who will definitely find use as a British Officer. Funnily enough they also had to take my address, as they hadn't brought their giveaway "Chinese Gordon" figure to the show.

I looked at rivers, roads and buildings at the S&A Scenics stand. But while it was all very nice, making terrain was always something I enjoyed doing, and I'm confident I can produce something just as good as theirs for a fraction of the price.

Rounding out the purchases was an absolute bargain find. Two packs of Heroscape hex terrain on the Bring N Buy for £10 each. I first discovered the gaming possibilities of modular hex terrain from Bob Cordery's "Wargaming Miscellany" blog, where he's used it in the development of his Portable Wargame rules. I think Heroscape and Portable Wargame are going to offer me an excellent way to play full-size battles on my modestly sized coffee table. When we arrived back at my flat for the planned RPG session, the tiles certainly proved a hit with the other players, as after pulling a few out and snapping them together we all decided to use the hexes as the battlemap for the rest of the day. Much fun was had by all, assembling the little plastic hexes into the required layout for the planned encounter. Almost, I'm afraid to say, to the detriment of the actual roleplaying, but luckily Jonesy (The GM) seemed to be having as much fun with the tiles as the rest of us.
While it was a mega bargain and I have easily enough tiles to cover the whole of my coffee table and then some, I did feel I need a few more tiles to offer enough flexibility, particularly with the water tiles. These are thinner than the other hexes, making a river or stream cut realistically into the surrounding terrain. I don't quite have enough to do a 2-hex wide river running the whole length of the table. So I have bid on.... and in fact just this minute won an eBay auction for another boxed set, paying more for the one set than the two I've already bought.

Maybe just one more set will be enough...

Friday, 17 June 2011

Funny thing

I just spent a very enjoyable evening sitting painting those 10 British in Home Service Uniform, while Waterloo played on the TV in the background. They're now all about 80% complete, and I'm looking forward to getting another couple of hours to finish them off tomorrow, then starting on the next unit of Almost Prussians (West Wind Zendarians from the Vampire Wars range) to oppose them.

Thing is, I really hate painting figures. Always have. But this, I enjoyed.

Bob Cordery has made an interesting "taking stock" post on his Wargaming Miscellany blog, going through some of the same process I've been going through.. looking at his collections, rationalising them and figuring out how to get the most out of them. It's a process I highly recommend to any miniatures gamer, especially those with hidden "lead mountains" of unpainted and unused figures squirrelled away.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy...

... and no heartfelt and sincere resolution by a wargamer can survive contact with the .... oooooh look, shiny.

I'd started out trying to focus on the 15mm modern stuff, but while sorting through some old boxes at my parents house I came across my old G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. VSF collection, including several boxes of steampunk contraptions in various states of completion. The charm of a more civilised age, the shiny and colourful uniforms and the wacky contraptions really got the creative juices flowing. So rather than fight it I'm going to change horses mid-stream and switch to getting some of my 28mm VSF figures and conveyances completed. I have a unit of 10 British in Home Service Uniform from redoubt, white primed and 8 of them with their jackets painted. If I complete them now they will have taken about 8 years to paint .

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Not another brick in the wall

One of the tasks required for the Paradiso urban terrain was to create a selection of suitable buildings. I'm a big fan of the paper buildings from Microtactix, Fat Dragon and WorldWorks, so I was planning on using a mix of these to create Port Au Nice city.

But I had the nagging feeling that, despite the rationale that the city had been extensively rebuilt and modernised, I was really missing something of the Latin American/Caribbean flavour. So yesterday I sat down and did a series of Google Image searches looking for inspiration.

One immediate thing that struck me was the complete absence of any visible brickwork. Absolutely everything is brightly painted stucco or concrete. There's a smattering of old timber colonial style buildings, and a few very old stone structures like forts. Outside the cities, buildings can be very simple and primitive, little more than boxes with corrugated iron roofs.

Some of the paper buildings I've already done are now clearly inappropriate for the setting. I think there are still a few that will fit OK, but it looks like the bulk of the buildings are going to have to be scratchbuilt. I'm going to try building some using the Matakishi cork tile method, scaled down to 15mm of course.

In other news, yesterday I received a delivery of a KR Multicase and Aquila carry case from Kaiser-Rushforth. I'm very impressed with them. With 200 figure compartments to a Multicase it was able to hold the contents of a Games Workshop hardshell case, plus one and a half of the old single-layer GW cases, all in a box smaller than the harshell. The card feels a little less durable than I'd expected, and I wouldn't like to rely on it for weekly trips to a wargames club without putting them in one of the Kaiser outer carry cases, but since most of my gaming is going to be done at home and I'm using them mainly for storage rather than transport, they're the perfect solution.

The Aquila on the other hand, is perfect for carrying a small part of the collection to a game. It's made of a soft synthetic material, and holds four foam trays directly, for a storage capacity of up to 100 figures in a space smaller than the old GW single-layer eggcarton foam cases. That's enough for a typical skirmish game. I'm tempted to reinforce the bag slightly with more rigid inserts between the bag and the foam, but even without that it feels relatively sturdy for a non-rigid case.

While messing about with the now emptied GW cases, I made a pleasant discovery. Two of the foam layers from the GW hardshell case fit perfectly into the old single layer eggcarton foam case. Kaiser-Rushforth also do an upgrade set of foam inserts for the hardshell case which through smaller compartments and thinner layers can fit 200 figures to a case, an 85% increase in capacity. By upgrading my two hardshell cases, they should be able to carry my entire current 28mm VSF collection, including many as yet unpainted figures. And by refitting the old foam trays into the even older GW cases it ought to double their capacity while holding the figures much more securely (I find the egg-carton foam useless for figures based on anything less than a 25mm slottabase, and even then they're prone to some shifting around).

I think KR is going to become my preferred 28mm figure storage/transport solution, supplanting my old Intersponge cases, which take up twice as much space and don't do a great job of protecting raised swords, spears or rifles. It's a shame they don't offer a good solution for individually based 15mm figures, so it looks like I'll still be using slimline boxfiles with magnetic basing linings.

Monday, 13 June 2011


The island nation of Paradiso has a long and chequered history. Sitting in the crystal blue waters of the Carribean, it was once a haven for pirates, escaped slaves and ne'er-do-wells of every stripe. It repeatedly changed hands between British, French and Spanish rule up until the late 19th century when it declared independence. Immediately the island was thrown into protracted civil war, resulting in the island being divided into two nations, Paradiso in the western half and the slightly less prosperas Culo Raton in the eastern half. Since the US invasion in the mid 1980s to oust a military dictatorship, Paradiso has been a constitutional democracy, whereas Culo Raton remains under military government with a decidedly Marxist bent and Cuban backing. The two nations coexist on the island in a state of uneasy detente.
While Paradiso is a very popular tourist destination, all is not sweetness and light. El Presidente has the delicate job of balancing between the various factions - the Opposition, the Military and the Church, not to mention keeping Los Americanos and the United Nations on-side.
Most visitors to the island generally stick to the resort of Soleilville, or the capital city of Port-Au-Nice. Although relatively safe and secure by Paradiso standards, both cities do have high crime rates, and the occasional flare up of street violence (which is usually blamed on British tourists). High in the mountains, far out of sight of the resort beaches, a small but dedicated army of rebels carry out a low-intensity campaign against the government. Similarly hidden from general view, the Cartel operates a significant narcotics industry, resisting any attempt to shut them down with deadly force. Some might say they're not that different from the US-based Sunbeam Enterprises, which operates a major pharmaceutical plant and mining operation on Paradiso, both of which are guarded by a heavily armed private security company. Cynics point out the only difference between Sunbeam and the Cartels is that Sunbeam pays more taxes.

So that's the first leg of the Axis of Naughtiness tripod. Paradiso is set up to try to cram in as many Latin American/Banana Republic clich├ęs as possible. It exists in the "vaguely now" that I think works best for modern Imagi-Nations. Its armed forces will be using slightly outdated gear, anything back to Vietnam-era kit might still be in-service, but as Port-Au-Nice is a relatively developed, modernised city (thanks to an influx of US money) I can do street violence games on US-style urban terrain (I figure if the TV series "Chaos" can get away with passing off the back streets of Vancouver as Hong Kong, I can get away with this!) or counter-insurgency/counter narcotics games further out into the rural areas.

At the moment I'm working on the Port-Au-Nice Police Department in 15mm, using Rebel Miniatures figures. They're great minis, three different poses with pistols, one with shotgun and a bareheaded "chief" figure. I'm also mixing in Rebel's Mall Cops figures, who are generally chunkier sculpts and with very large nightsticks (which the regular cops are strangely lacking). The uniforms look generally compatible, so I'm painting them all up as regular police and using the Mall Cops as veterans, sergeants etc.
Vehicles for the PNPD are going to be a bit tricky. I've decided not to use Hot Wheels sized die-cast cars with 15mm figures. I know some people do quite happily, but I find the scale difference too jarring. Instead I've got some nominally 1/87 cheap model railway vehicles from eBay. I think they fit perfectly with 15mm figures, but the selection only includes civilian cars & people movers. Rather than spend stupid money getting die-cast 1/87 police cars (which are way, way more expensive than Hot Wheels despite being half the size) I think I'm going to order another batch of eBay cars so I've got enough suitable spares to do some police car conversions.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Those who can, do. Those who can't, blog about it.

I used to love pushing little toy soldiers around a table. Not just as a kid, though I was a precocious little brat with Charles Grant's "Battle! Practical Wargaming" on near permanent loan from the library. I was the club president of a major wargames society with over a hundred members. I was an active member of the Two Hour Wargames and G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. online communities, publishing material for both.

But a lot of things happened all around the same time. I moved to a one bedroom flat with absolutely no room for a wargames table (or much in the way of figure & terrain storage). I got a new job, which cut into my free time a lot more than the previous one. I had big changes in my social life, which had the same effect. Most significantly, I had a run of bad experiences of "gamesmanship" from other players, sulking when they were losing, becoming aggressive or argumentative, which came to a head one day when a very good friend completely lost it over a stupid little Redcoats vs Werewolves game of Savage Worlds Showdown, and I had to walk away. From that day on I swore never to play a wargame with an opponent again, even a "friendly" game. But somehow the switch to solo gaming didn't quite happen and the little lead men were put away never to see the light of day again. Until now.

While I'm still in the same crappy one-bedroom flat, with no room for a proper wargames table, I do have an unfeasibly large coffee table. Combined with a number of excellent rules designed to cater to games in a small play area, like the Song Of Blade And Heroes series of games, or the latest from 2-Hour Wargames, and with a bit of a renaissance in 15mm miniatures, I decided in January to restart the hobby. Dr V's Christmas present to himself was a $100 order to Rebel Miniatures. Progress on the endeavour has been painfully slow, so I've decided to start this blog to help document the process.

Over the years I've played many different periods and scales. I tend to shy away from the glossy "product" games, from companies like GW or Mongoose. I like games where I can use the figures I want, in the setting I want. I got into the hobby inspired by the old-school wargamers... Donald Featherstone, Charles Grant, Tony Bath to name but three. While I won't be fielding 60-man battalions in the Grand Manner, I'd like to think I'm carrying on their tradition of being a wargamer as an independant enthusiast, rather than the modern standard of the wargamer as a consumer (as typified by the GW hobby).

Here are the scales and periods I'm expecting to be engaged in.

  • 1:2400 and 1:3000 Ironclad & Pre-Dreadnought Naval
  • 6mm Modern
  • 15mm Colonial and VSF
  • 15mm Modern
  • 15mm Sci-Fi
  • 20mm Roadwar
  • 28mm 16-17th Century (Elizabethans and Reivers)
  • 28mm Victoriana & Western
  • 25-28mm Near Future & Sci-Fi

These cluster into three main areas/periods of interest, with one outlier.

The modern gaming (6mm and 15mm) is going to be centred around not one but three modern day "Imagi-Nations" which will make up the "Axis of Naughtiness" which gives this blog its name. Why three? Well I want to play a range of terrains and operational types, from urban law enforcement to counter-insurgency to armoured warfare. So I've created a Caribbean island nation, an "AK-47 Republic" style African nation and a middle east theater which blurs Iraq and Afghanistan with other potential Arabic hotspots. More on them in a later post. 15mm will handle small-scale skirmishing or police/civilian clashes, 6mm will be for larger scale operations.

The nineteenth century stuff is similarly spread across three theatres of operation. For 15mm colonial gaming I'll be resurrecting my old Olistan fictional narrative campaign, which was heavily inspired by Major General Tremorden Rederrings battles in Ouargistan. Despite being another Imagi-Nation, Olistan was a strictly historical if slightly mashed up setting, with no Victorian Science Fiction elements. The VSF battles I used to fight were all against the backdrop of an Invasion of England in 188x. In this setting, an unholy alliance between Russia and Germany had launched a two-pronged attack on Great Britain. In this setting pretty much anything goes.. steam walkers, tanks, dirigibles and aeronefs, and I can play different scales of game in 15mm and 28mm. Finally I have a whole slew of 28mm cowboys, plus a large number of townsfolk who serve double duty in both the Old West and the Old Kent Road. With a few of Eric Hotz's Whitewash City buildings made up, I have the makings of a fine western gunfight.

Finally I have the Sci-Fi end of things... 15mm Laserburn was my very first wargame and figure collection, and I've been building up the collection in dribs and drabs over the years. While I've got more than enough of them, and of the 6mm Sci-Fi figs, to put on a sizeable game, for now these are going on the back-burner. What I do want to do is sort out my 25mm + 28mm sci-fi, post apocalyptic and "street violence" figures and get them onto broadly compatible bases (with hidden shims for the 25s) and maybe even give them an outing to the local wargames club, hopefully to drum up some interest in Two Hour Wargames and reconnect with the local wargaming scene. Larger figures make for a more engaging spectacle, as does the 20mm roadwar genre, using Hot Wheels sized die-cast cars. I'd like to revamp my old Road Rage V8 rules, or maybe give one of the other published auto-combat games a try.

The odd-man out in the figure collection is the 28mm 16th-17th century. In the early noughties I traced my ancestry to the borders between Scotland and England, where people known as Border Reivers used to raid both countries with equal abandon. I then started running a roleplaying campaign set around the ascension of King James I to the English throne, during which I planned to have the players involved in the pacification of the borders. I bought a ton of 28mm swashbucklers, Reivers and Sea-Dogs from various manufacturers, but sadly the campaign fizzled before many of them saw much use. I'd love to get some of that minor lead mountain painted up and in use at some point, possibly against the backdrop of another Imagi-Nation.

So my mission statement is as follows

  1. No New Scales or Periods. Get something going with what I've already got
  2. Make a push to paint some of the mountain of unpainted miniatures I have stashed away.
  3. Try to buy as little new stuff as possible. Only buy new figures to fill in necessary gaps (e.g. I have no 28mm Victoriana cavalry, and in the intervening years have somehow lost 80% of my 15mm British Lancers, which will need to be replaced).
  4. Aim to have enough figures and scenery ready by the beginning of August so I can have a significant wargame on my birthday (maybe even with other players)
  5. Aim to have even more stuff ready for an even more significant solo-game on 11-11-11, which is being dubbed by many as International Solitaire Gaming Day.
I'm going to focus initially on the 15mm modern collection and the urban unrest on the not-so-idyllic island nation of Paradiso, the first point of the Axis of Naughtiness. More on that later.