Sunday, 31 July 2011

After the ball was over

Well the Big Birthday Battle went off successfully, my first real foray into GASLIGHT in 28mm and the culmination of six weeks of planning, figure painting and terrain building . Had a bit of scare first thing when after thinking the club we were playing at opened at 11:30, I spotted a note this morning on the MAWS mailing list saying the club would be opening from 9:15 this morning because of the planned practice tournament. So I threw everything into the car and raced down there thinking we might struggle to get a table. Luckily it wasn't too bad, and I secured the side room for our use so that we wouldn't disturb the serious business of the competition wargamers. Players started turning up from 11 onwards, and we soon had seven players, with an eighth arriving in time to join in turn 2.

Here we have a view of Nether Fondle from the south. The River Fondle runs diagonally across the southern half of the table, with the village itself on the right and South Wood closest to the camera.

The table is bisected exactly by the West Crumshaw District Railway line, with the 11:30 just halted at the station following reports of beastly Huns in the area.

Here's a view from the North West, with North Farm closest to the camera. It could be said that the locals were a bit lacking in imagination when naming local landmarks.

Here are all the forces I brought along for the game. When you consider that when I first put forward this idea to the guys at Phalanx on 18th June, I had one unit of British Infantry and one unit of Germans painted, plus the five P5 dreadnought suits that I used to use for 15mm, I think putting together all these troops and all the terrain (which was also all put together from scratch) in six weeks is quite an achievement (again big props to Mi Hermano Pintando Jonesy for helping with the figure painting.)

There were way more figures and vehicles than we needed, though in the end we did actually use most of them when the Germans regrouped for their second wave attack, but more of that later.

And these were the players, god help us all. From left to right we have the German Empire (Bruce, Andy, Marvin, Em), My Evil Genius Henchwoman (Alice) and the stout hearted defenders of Britannia (Jonesy and DeadEdd). I naturally played Doctor Vesuvius and started out the game with my MoleMachine having just gone underground at the crater marker by the Bridge. This battle saw the Evil Genius forces temporarily allied with the British.

The first few moves were fairly cagey as the players, uncertain of things, slowly advanced to contact positions. The Germans were crippled by a series of failed Sustain and Start rolls, which left two of their Landships inactive for several turns.

It seems to be a rule of VSF games. If you put a nice train on the tabletop as pretty terrain, someone is going to get inside and try to ram it into something. In this instance a whole platoon were entrained and the engine commandeered by Colonel Roger deRRs (a very old family name)

The German Infantry advance around South Wood. Left unsupported by the Ludwig Quad Walker and the Imperial Landship Parsifal which both suffered Sustain failures.

Similar story in the north - the Imperial Landship Lohengrin is stalled just off to the left of camera. The Tigger MkII Springenpanzer was luckier and was able to move up in support of th infantry and Jaegers.

Rumour has it that Farmer Barleymow and his good wife were terribly ill-used when the beastly Huns barged through his farmhouse.

Here's a fine example of German "soldiering" in action. Hauptmann Kramer "encouraging" his troops to enter South Wood. "But Hauptmann, I'm scared, Joachim says there may be in there!"

The British defenders in and around Nether Fondle itself.

After about turn 6, Doctor Vesuvius surfaces the Molemachine near to South Wood. As I mentioned previously, with the Molemachine moving underground the player has to plot move orders on a piece of paper, operating purely by eye and without measuring on the tabletop. When the machine surfaced, those orders were replayed, in our case by a passing-by MAWS club officer who happened to be wearing a Britcon Umpire shirt (thanks Geoff). As it happened, I was about one move short of where I thought I was, which I thought was pretty good going for a first try.

In the far north, the girls got into a bit of a cat-fight, with my henchwoman (the appropriately named Dr Rebecca Henchman) and the Teutonic markswoman Heidi Brecht trading shots. Their vehicles were unfortunately ill matched, the very heavy Thunder Hammer Tank outgunning the lightly armoured Springenpanzer, whose Steam Dynamite Cannon had little chance of piercing the Thunder Hammer's armour. The first shot from the Thunder Hammer penetrated, but luckily turned out to be a straight "in and out" shot, doing little damage.

The next shot, on the other hand, saw the Springenhammer's throttle stuck into full speed forward. Em calculates her uncontrolled course and in true Victorian fashion is Not Amused.

Lord George Fox and Captain Hurst with his Grenadier Guards take up a defensive position on the edge of town.

... and soon afterwards are rewarded. The German infantry are distracted by the now moving train, and position themselves to engage it, opening themselves to enfilading fire from the town. First Blood to the British! In the next turn, the train advances and the infantrymen on board unleash a volley on the Germans in the open, which combined with a second volley from the Grenadier Guards, breaks their morale and pretty much blunts the advance in the German centre.

And the same turn, the loss of the Quad Walker to a shot from HMLS Pinafore in the centre cements that collapse.

At South Wood, the Molemachine advances on the German Infantry. They courageously run away.

Hauptman von Blitzen (in the fetching green patrol jacket) and his troops stand fast at North Farm.

...but disaster strikes the Springenpanzer. Barrelling forward out of control, it's hit a second time from the Thunder Hammer Tank. This time a fuel line is breached and the fighting cabin fills up with noxious smoke. The crew are incapacitated for three rounds.

It was at this point that I inform the British players that the large white building that the Springenpanzer was ultimately heading towards is in fact the Red Lion Pub. This prompts shouts of "foul" and "bad show" and some very quick re-assignment of targeting priorities. Despite the best efforts of HMLS Pinafore over the, they are unable to bring it down, but before the Springenpanzer reaches it, it clips the end of the last train carriage and unceremoniously topples over. Not an auspicious first run out for the Tigger Mk II.

Meanwhile in South Wood, Hooligan O'Hara and his Masked Minions spring out of the Molemachine and charge after the retreating Germans. A vicious melee ensues, but the tide quickly turns against the Masked Minions, On the next turn, Doctor Vesuvius himself leaves the safety of the Mole Machine and joins the fray, accompanied by his faithful companion, Wolesley the Wonder Dog. Disaster! The good and kindly doctor is viciously cut down, along with the last of the Masked Minions. Who will buy the poorhouse orphans their Christmas presents this year?
But Huzzah for good old Wolesley! He steadfastly guards his master's fallen body and the melee concludes with the unseemly spectacle of five German soldiers all trying to bayonet one small dog. He manages to take two of them down before succumbing. "Well done thou good and faithful servant."

It was now 3pm and at this point the German players decided that their current attack had no chance of succeeding. We paused for a brief break, and reformed the German forces with some fresh reinforcements, which saw all three landships and the two surviving Ludwigs, plus two early Laufmaschines backed up by fresh infantry and cavalry. Repairs were made to the Iron Men, and I took the second unit of Masked Minions, led by Ivan Tukhiliu, the Mad Axeman of Minsk, who didn't wind up doing an awful lot in the rest of the battle.

Here's a long shot of after the restart. The British were allowed to start in possession of the battlefield and the Germans came on at them in the same old fashion. Far up in the north, the Thunder Hammer got into a point-blank gunnery duel with Imperial Landship "Siegfried", which was a little more evenly matched than the Springenpanzer. The Germans weren't quite so crippled by failed Sustain rolls as the previous attack and were better able to advance in support of the infantry.

Just north of the railway, just about visible in this picture, HMLS Pinafore and the two Royal Horseless Artillery Gun trucks got into a duel with Imperial Landship Lohengrin and the two early Laufmaschines. Gun Truck #2 "Oliver" gets stuck in forward gear and winds up ramming through the wall at North Farm with none of the German vehicles ever really being threatened. In the foreground, the Imperial German Uhlans had advanced to threaten both the Grenadiers and the regulars. They somehow manage to survive the volley fire intact, but Ludwig#2 behind them manages to effectively wipe out the regular infantry on the hill with heavy machine gun and cannon fire. The Uhlans went on to charge the Grenadiers and after a couple of rounds of vicious fighting cut them down to the last man, at the cost of half their number. The last surviving Grenadier rolls failed morale, and gets "Charge nearest enemy" so we decide he's staying in the fight, Impossible Paladin-style.

In the foreground we see Professor Pondsmith's Perpendicular Perambulating Paladin No 1 "Annie" breaking through into South Wood, stalking Ludwig #3. Again the accompanying German infantry steer well clear of the metal behemoth.

Impeccable timing, as the landship "Parsifal" rounds the edge of the woods moments after Annie makes it into cover. Ludwig #3 is suffering steam problems...

...which Annie takes advantage of. I'm a little hazy on how melee between vehicles and conveyances should go, I think it's one of those "GM's call" hazy areas of the GASLIGHT rules. To keep things moving fast I had each vehicle roll a morale dice, as per normal close-combat rules, with only a 19 or 20 being a failure. The Ludwig threw a 20! Its crew, seeing the onrushing P5, decides that discretion is the better part of valour and bail out of the stricken vehicle before it was smashed up by the oncoming juggernaut.

It was now 4pm, with the club due to close at 5pm I called last turn. Since the British hadn't even brought on their cavalry yet and we simply had to have a glorious Cavalry vs Cavalry charge, they decided that the British lancers must have been a flanking force arriving on the table side near the Uhlans. After protests from the German player that he had already lost half his strength, the British player agreed they must be a under-strength flanking force and reduced their number to match the Uhlans.

The resulting melee is brutal and mercifully short. In the aftermath, with only a couple of troopers a side, both players decided they would each withdraw from the field with honour. The last action of the game was for Lord George Fox, pictured above waving his sword, in a last Huzzah decides to single-handedly charge the unit of German infantry advancing through the South Woods. I ask the German player for a morale check, saying pretty much anything but a 20 would be OK. He rolls a twenty. Taken aback by the crazy Englishman's suicidal charge, they scatter in panic.

And that is pretty much where we left it. I know I'm leaving out a ton of details, but these were the scenes from the action that I got on camera and can remember. A full detailed account of the battle would take many more hours to compile.

The second German attack seemed to have been much more successful than the first, though the British were still hanging on by the skin of their teeth, the outcome was still uncertain and both sides agreed to call it a draw/stalemate. Everyone said they enjoyed it, and I got some nice compliments on the terrain and, bizarrely on the figure painting. Considering I was using Army Painter Quickshade for the "Magic Dip" technique, I'm chuffed that people liked the results.

Several players have expressed an interest in more GASLIGHT gaming, and we've already scheduled another game for mid September, that being the first club meet any significant number of us will be available for. Now that everyone's gotten some experience playing the game, I think we can increase the number of units fielded per player from the recommended 1 Main Character, one unit of troops and one vehicle.

I'm feeling absolutely drained - after all the work over the last six weeks to make this game happen and also after a day of running the game without having time for a proper meal, so right now I think I'm going to crash.

Saturday, 30 July 2011

Baby, I'm ready to go.

It's amazing that no matter how much time you spend on a paint job, no matter how carefully you check it over and no matter how good it looks on the table, the moment you take a photograph of it you'll find a tiny hidden unpainted spot. Well sod it.

These are Royal Horseless Artillery Gun Trucks, mounting a very heavy quick-firing gun facing forward and a smaller gatling type machine gun firing backwards. They're Atlantis toys (surprise surprise) which originally featured a lever to pull the driver into the body of the truck and pop up a duplicate of him in the rear firing position. A little bit of tinkering and some snapped plastic fixed both figures in the "out" position. I then added a stratchbuilt gatling-type main cannon and a smokestack... I should point out this was all done eight years ago and as a result the decor around the smokestack is a little tattered looking and really needs replacing. For the paint job I really wanted something more reminiscent of an artillery limber than an armoured fighting vehicle, so without knowing that colour the RHA painted their limbers in 1889, I went for a dark green with yellow trim. It looked absolutely hideous right up until the final drybrushing, when I think it just about came together in a garish sort of way.

And here we have philanthropist, bon viveur and not the least bit criminally insane genius Doctor Vesuvius, standing in front of the Molemachine with his trusty companion, Wolesley. Mini-Me is of course the Chinese Gordon figure from Design 28 Miniatures which this year is free with every order over £25. Wolesley is, I think, from a West Wind Miniatures pack of Victorian Civilians from their Gothic Horror range. And the Molemachine is, of course, an Atlantis toy, put together from bits of the submarine playset and painted in a similar colour scheme to the Thunder Hammer tank.

Jonesy, Mi Hermano Sympatico, came around this afternoon and we did a final stocktake of all the figures and vehicles painted for this big game, coming up with a total of 180 men and horses - actually on reflection we didn't count the Springenpanzer crew, or any of the character figures I've been doing as a sideshow so the real figure is probably closer to 195.

It was with some trepidation, therefore, that I confessed to having placed an order for another hundred or so figures with Renegade Miniatures - some WWI Austro-Hungarians to be painted up as regular troops for the Evil Genius force (which I think will look rather splendid in burgundy, black and gold to match his vehicles) and some ACW troops in shell jackets & kepi, which when painted green will form the basis of my longed for Fenian Legion.

I'm glad to say that Jonesy maintain a cool demeanour at the news that the painting we had just completed was not the end of the job, however when I started talking about which figures to buy for a Russian army, he did suggest, politely, that maybe I should wait until I had the other two armies finished first?

The only thing that remains is to stat out all the vehicles and draw up playsheets for them and all the troop units. Oh and print initiative cards for them all..

I guess I'd best get on with it then.

It's the final countdown

It's 10:52am the day before the big game. I've just applied the Quickshade to the last figures painted for the game - the Ironclad British regulars, three Colonel Blimp-type British Officers, Professor von Pugh and Ferkel.

Still on the painting table - two British Gun-trucks, the Molemachine and an industrial bridge I've kitbashed from the old Airfix pontoon bridge set. Everything else needed for the game is piled up onto two side tables and ready to go... except I've just remembered I need to paint and flock the bases of the 1st-gen Laufmaschines.

And produce all the unit cards for everything, and of course take some more photos.

Busy, busy, busy.

Friday, 29 July 2011

I'm putting on my top hat

Curse you, Ramshackle Games! Shipping my order just two days before the big game.

Now I have to choose between painting up the awesome Isambard Kickass Brunel to lead my Evil Genius army, or... y'know... sleep and stuff? I don't normally like diorama-type figures, but this guy is just dripping with attitude and personality.

The package also contained the Brass Coffin, one of their more steampunky vehicles. It's a lot more detailed than the Iron Grumbler, and certainly much more appropriate for GASLIGHT. The casting is quite a bit cleaner than the IG, but still very rough around the edges, and there's a 5mm x 15mm gap near the bottom of the casting where the resin apparently didn't fill the mold properly and all the surface detail has been lost. It's not a problem, because Ramshackle cunningly included an extra big wheel in the kit and having seen how good the Brass Coffin looks with large front and rear wheels, I think I'm sold on trying to copy this conversion.

I'll definitely be buying from Ramshackle again, at the very least to get a collection of wheels and tracks for scratchbuilding.

Thursday, 28 July 2011

We do the walk...

One of the notable features of the Invasion of England in 188x was the Imperial German army's increased use of walking fighting vehicles, or Laufmaschines.

The early Laufmaschines tended to be crudely built and attempted to emulate the human bipedal form as closely as possible. Bristling with weapons, the single driver often struggled to balance combat duties with the need to constantly restoke the boiler to maintain steam.

The second generation of Laufmaschines abandoned the humanoid form and went for a quadrupedal egg design. While still bristling with weapons, the more roomy body allowed for a two-man crew compartment, one driver/gunner, one stoker. The PzKLm II "Ludwig" rapidly became the mainstay of the Imperial German fighting forces.

However German dominance in the field of steam combat walkers was soon threatened by British ingenuity and know-how...

Shortly after the Ludwigs had proven themselves on the battlefields of England, Professor Maxwell Pondsmith of the Royal Institute unveiled his new invention, the self-stoking forced-draught boiler, which would automatically regulate its own fuel supply and steam pressure in response to a simple throttle control. A design team was hastily put together to build a fighting machine around the new engine. The result was Professor Pondsmith's Perpendicular Perambulating Paladin, shortened by anyone in a rush to the "P5". Armed with a single 4" naval gun of awesome destructive power and a steam-hydraulic battle fist capable of ripping through armoured plating, the automation built into the P5 made it easy for the single driver to operate. With the German forces pressing hard in the south, P5s were rushed into production and sent to the front, where they quickly proved their worth.

With the P5 clearly a match for the Ludwigs, German scientists went to work on a third-generation Laufmaschine of their own...

Heh, that was fun to write. You have these vague background ideas floating around as you're modelling or painting these things and it's always nice to finally see them put down in black and white.

The German walkers are all resin models from Armorcast, now sadly out of production. I picked them up at Origins 2003, and are another example of those "put in a drawer and forgotten about" things, which wargamers seem to collect. I had originally planned to convert them for 15mm, which would have meant covering up the grinning faces at the viewports. I still don't like those faces, but having found it a fiddly nuisance to try to remove them, I've left them intact.

The P5s are old models, part of a skirmish came I think called Havok, which was an attempt by a toy company to cash in on Games Workshop's market. The boxed set came with two dreadnought type armours and about eight 28mm figures, and a friend got them for me on clearance from a catalogue store at some silly price. I used to use these back in the day in 15mm which made them pretty huge monstrosities, but even in 28mm they're still damned mean looking. The five P5s I've got represent half the armours I have, the other five are a different, blockier design which I'm going to turn into the PzKLm III mentioned at the end of the blurb.

And yes, Professor Pondsmith is a deliberate shout out to "Maximum" Mike Pondsmith of R Talsorian Games, who not only wrote the Cyberpunk RPG, but also Mekton which remains one of my favourite giant-robot anime RPGs and also the Castle Falkenstein Victorian steampunk fantasy RPG. I can't think of anyone better to invent a revolutionary steam-powered mecha for the Invasion of 188x.

Papa's got a brand new bag

Yesterday I had my first try at creating and using decals using laser printer decal paper, an example of which can be seen on the Springenpanzer. It worked better than I'd expected, having not had much joy with decals back in my childhood Airfix kit making days. Since there was no way I was going to be able to use a whole A4 page of decals, and didn't want to waste the expensive decal paper, I cut the sheet into quarters and fed them into the printer manually as a custom paper size, which worked fine. A few minutes on the web to source images for a Union Jack and a German cross, a few more to sort out some suitable fonts and a few more still to bring them all into Inkscape and print them, and I had a lovely little custom decal sheet.
The picture above is a close-up of the turret of one of the British Landships AKA the Atlantis "Spanner" tank, one of those I was having terrible trouble stripping paint off a few weeks back. To play up the "landship" idea and downplay the "tank" aspect, I've painted these to try to suggest pre-dreadnought Royal Navy colours, and the Jacks on the turret just finish the job nicely.

Yesterday's parcelpalooza brought a very small, light box and a very large, not quite so light one. The small box was a Golden Compass toy I bought on eBay.

This is the Magisterium carriage, which in the movie is self-propelled by means of the magic crystal in the front wheel. Although the accompanying figures are around 40mm scale, the carriage is a perfect fit for 28mm, as evidenced by the driver figure which happens to be from another Atlantis toy. It seems to be the pattern that the less successful movies seem to yield the best toys for GASLIGHT conversion (Wild Wild West anyone?), with the happy side effect that they usually turn up cheaply on clearance shelves or in pound stores. This coach is made by Corgi and there are numerous sellers on eBay pitching them as "rare collectibles", yet I was able to pick this one up for about five pounds.

The huge parcel was from Kaiser-Rushforth. I've been completely converted to KR for my figure storage and transport. I've upgraded my two Games Workshop hardshell cases with new KR foam inserts, nearly doubling their capacity, and have migrated all my 28mm sci-fi/street violence figures to a KR Multicase, and will be using one for my growing 28mm zombie collection as well. This order was specifically for the GASLIGHT collection of vehicles and took advantage of the recent launch of the Backpack series of Multicase bags. KR have a special promotion on for the launch - buy a Backpack in July and get an extra Multicase free. So I purchased a Backpack Two containing two Multicases and got a third one, all of which were filled with pick n pluck trays which I think will carry most if not all of my GASLIGHT vehicles. The backpack itself, which is almost a bonus, is very nice. As the name suggets it has two compartments each of which can hold a KR Multicase, or you can use the second for a change of clothes if travelling overnight for a game, or just zip the second compartment down to make the pack more compact. It's festooned with pockets, enough for all the gaming paraphernalia you could ever need.
I am, as you can probably tell, a big fan of KR. If you want to take advantage of their Backpack offer, there's three days left, or if you're in the US and going to GenCon, they have a similar offer of a free Multicase with every Aluminium case, Kaiser carry bag or Backpack sold there.

And if you're wondering how much protection your figures are going to get from a card case, take a look at KR's own demonstration, or the independent and equally impressive test by TotalWargamerShop. I wouldn't like to leave a Multicase unprotected outside in the rain, but in a bag like the Backpack or Kaiser, it's not going to suffer from reasonable exposure to the British weather.

Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, bouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun!

Professor Wilhelm von Pugh, crazed Tyrolean inventor that he was, believed passionately that the future of military vehicular transport was not wheels, tracks or even jointed legs, but his revolutionary Sprung Pneumatics (Pat Pending).

His first attempt at using them as the drive train for a walking vehicle came to a disastrous end when his prototype, dubbed "Das Tiger", suffered a malfunction and sprung uncontrollably off a nearby cliff. The Professor and his loyal manservant Ferkel managed to leap to safety in time, but the prototype ended in a fiery explosion several hundred feet below.

His Mark II prototype incorporated many safety features and showed great promise. He immediately offered it to the Imperial German high command as a sure-fire winner for the upcoming Invasion of England. Reichchancellor Bismark was unimpressed, having already invested a good deal in conventional walkers and tracked landships, but he did allow von Pugh to bring the creation along with the invasion for field trials. Unfortunately, a short-sighted logistics clerk misread the name of the vehicle, and so it was officially entered into Imperial German service as the Tigger Mk II Springenpanzer.
Along with two forward-facing Gatling guns, the Springenpanzer was fitted with a steam-powered dynamite projecting cannon, capable of hurling an explosive package over great distances. Since the Imperial German Army does not allow civilians to command armed vehicles in battle, Lieutenant Kristoph Rotkehlchen was assigned as nominal commander. In practice however, von Pugh usually winds up giving all the orders, even insisting on firing the main gun himself. Lt Rotkehlchen no longer believes this assignment to be the plum posting he once thought and disparages von Pugh as "an inventor of very little brain."

This is about as far as I've gone on the "GASLIGHT Whimsy" scale. There's a story behind this unusual vehicle. In 2003 when I went to the US for the launch of "Adventures and Expeditions by GASLIGHT", Chris Palmer, one of the two authors of GASLIGHT was kind enough to invite me to come visit him and his family for the July 4th celebrations. Well the details of that trip are documented on a blog I did to keep in touch with friends and family back home (which miraculously is still in existence despite having only been updated for three weeks some eight years ago or so).

While I was there, Chris took me around all the dollar stores and Toys R US's in his area, looking for suitable material for GASLIGHT vehicles. In one of them, I can't remember which one, I saw these bizarre "pogo stick" toys. They were basically built like the sort of pogo stick a person could ride and bounce up and down on, if they were so inclined, but scaled to about six inches. I have no idea how you would actually play with such a thing - they're a bit too small for standard doll sizes and I don't know what play value there is in just bouncing them up and down with your fingers. And to be honest, I wasn't quite sure how I was going to use them, I just felt sure that if GASLIGHT could support unicycling lancers, there ought to be some way I could use these bizarre things.

Looking over my purchases, Chris saw the pogo sticks and uttered the immortal words... "I don't have any idea how you're going to use those things."

Challenge Accepted!

Although it's taken 8 years for this to see the light of day, it's another one of those things that's sat half-completed for most of that time. The basic idea of the quad walker using the Atlantis toy part for the body and the pogo-sticks for the legs came quite quickly, as did the guns, before being put in a box and forgotten. When I took it out this year with a view to using it for 28mm, the rest all just fell into place, the Kinder egg boiler, the crew figures and even the name and colourful backstory (with apologies to A.A. Milne). It maybe looks a bit more Dieselpunk than Steampunk, but it's done now, and unless I happen to come across another set of bizarre pogo-stick toys, is likely to remain a one-off.

The most wonderful thing about the Tigger Mk II isn't just that it's the only one, but that it's actually inspired by real life. Years ago I saw footage of some research into self balancing, bouncing robots, which used pneumatic jacks to take springing steps, in the same way that I imagine the Tigger springing along.

I haven't worked out the stats for GASLIGHT yet, but I'm thinking it should be able to bounce over linear obstacles without penalty, and be able to see over cover, based on its towering form. It won't be able to train its weapons on targets closer than... eight inches maybe? The steam-dynamite gun ought to have a fairly low SRM, as it fires sticks of dynamite rather than armour-piercing shells.

More photos from the vehicle park soon.

Those Magnificent Men...

It must be another Wargamers' Curse. After six weeks of working through the pile of unpainted lead and resin VSF troops and vehicles, just when I'm getting to the so very nearly finished stage, I couldn't help but start thinking about the lack of air power. In other words, "Need moar stuff!"

I think fantastical flying ships are considered by many to be a key element of Victorian Science fiction, largely I think because they featured so heavily in the Space 1889 game. The very first release in that line was Sky Galleons of Mars, the aerial ship combat boardgame that tied in to the RPG. Lets face it, a large proportion of the aerial gunboat models you see on the net are based on the classic HMS Aphid design, while most people will have never even heard of Robur's "Albatross", arguably the most prominent example of a flying ship from the period fiction.

What's interesting is that looking at the various online VSF gaming forums, such ships are almost universally referred to as Aeronefs, the french word for "aircraft" and popularised by the game of the same name by Wessex Games, but never used in the 1889 line.

Anyway, I'm thinking of going with the classic cliche of zeppelin/dirigibles for the Germans and Cavorite/liftwood based 'nefs for the British. Further down the line, the Russian aeronavy might use rotors for lift (like huge helicopters), the French some Bleriot-type fixed wing aeroplanes and the poor Fenians would have to make do with whatever they could get their hands on.

It's far too late to even consider doing anything for Sunday's game, but the creative juices are flowing. Next week I think I'll have to dig out my old 15mm flyers and see what I can cannibalise for 28mm. I've also got some Zeppelin NT model gasbags that I never got around to using that will be a good starting point for some small scout digs in 28mm.

Tuesday, 26 July 2011

Finish what ya started

Just look at my painting table. Look at it! The two units of cavalry and the three of infantry in the background have just had their bases flocked, and in the foreground there's ten British regulars, three British regulars (with the red jackets blocked in) and three civilians (plus one finished Brit for colour reference and a random cowboy that's nothing to do with the GASLIGHT game) And that's it, those are the last of the figures I need to paint for this Sunday's game. Soooooo close!

In the vehicle park, there's about four vehicles that still need some work on them, including an Atlantis toy-based Mole Machine for the Evil Genius army. Late into the small hours last night, in the grip of some caffeine-induced insomnia, I realised that if I wanted to allow underground movement for the drilling machine, I was going to need markers to show where it had entered and emerged from the underground. So I quickly grabbed a couple of old CDRs, some thin card, masking tape and quickly mocked up some craters, which I then liberally coated in ready-mixed filler. This morning with the filler mostly dried I coated it with PVA and sand, and once that's dry I'll give it another coat of watered down PVA mixed with paint to darken the sand and toughen it up a little more, then look at adding some more kitty-litter debris and flocking around the outside.

The idea is that when the Mole Machine goes underground it's replaced by a crater to show where it entered the earth. From that point on the player has to record its movement orders as simple left/right, forward X inches instructions and must do so without measuring on the tabletop but must judge the distances by eye. This represents the difficulty of travelling blind underground by dead reckoning with no points of reference to serve as a guide. When the player wishes the machine to surface, the Umpire works through the orders and will determine the exact point of emergence. This way, the player might be able to use the Mole Machine to deliver a unit to a vital position on the battlefield, but if they travel too far may misjudge where they arrive.

I'm now looking at the finishing touches for the terrain - hedges, the last couple of buildings and the roads. While I've got the mosaic effect lino tile which will be OK for the mean streets of Nether Fondle, I'm not sure what to use for the country lanes around the village. It might be just as well to use nothing and define them as empty space between other terrain items. But it's getting to that really nice stage of a project when all the individual bits you've been working on start to come together and you can see what this unit of troops look like next to that terrain piece.

This afternoon I'm going to start taking some photos for the unit record cards and statting up the various vehicles for GASLIGHT. Watch this space.

Monday, 25 July 2011

Achtung! Hammerzeit!

Or more accurately, Donnerhammerzeit! This is the slightly modified Thunder Hammer fantasy steamtank from Scotia Grendel. I got up early yesterday to sand the turret rings on some Armorcast quad walkers which didn't take long, so thinking it wouldn't take a few minutes I grabbed the Thunder Hammer and set to work. Flash trimming and sanding didn't take long, but I wasn't happy with the smokestacks which on the original model looked like they had melted. While trimming them off using a mixture of hacksaw, stanley knife and brute force, I managed to crack the main body of the tank in two, but luckily it was a clean break and the superglued repair looks seamless. The replacement smokestacks are simply plastic tube cut to length and superglued in place.

After that I put the Thunder Hammer to one side and thought no more of it. Until later in the morning I found I had another vehicle I planned to use for the Big Birthday Game that needed undercoating. So I did the Thunder Hammer at the same time.

And then in the afternoon, mi hermano spectacular Jonesy came around for another painting session and after detailing the British Landship squadron, picked up the Thunder Hammer and asked "What do you want doing with this one?" The result, is pretty good and a far better paint job than I could ever manage. The beautiful dragon decoration makes it look better suited to a chinese based army rather than a German, so I'm probably going to use it as part of the Evil Genius army if I can dig up a suitable crew figure.

(And in related news, Robert from Scotia Grendel got back to me first thing this morning, promising to ship the missing parts for the Iron Drake ASAP. Can't complain and would definitely recommend these Leviathan dwarven steam tanks to any GASLIGHT or VSF gamers.)

So yesterday's vehicle painting session broke the back of the vehicle park. In addition to the five steam tanks Jonesy finished, he put a couple more coats of paint on two gun trucks I've been working on, while I finished three Armorcast Quad walkers, four biped walkers and got the Tiger MkII pogowagen to about 80% complete. I can just need to get that, the gun trucks and a drilling machine completed for Sunday, plus of course the last unit of British infantry and a half dozen individuals. Should be easily doable.

Finally for today, here's a little something I found wrapped around some very old fish and chips...
Egad! Whatever next!

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Crazy Horses

A mad, mad, mad painting session today, with the aid of mi hermano fantastico Jonesy, saw both units of cavalry on the painting table go from primed to Quickshade ready, men and horses both. In addition, yesterday I finished the last unit of German regulars and this morning put the finishing touches to the two units of Jaegers, all of which now sit alongside the cavalry waiting for Quickshade. That leaves a single unit of Ironclad Minis British Regular Infantry and about six individuals left on the painting table, which should easily get done next week.

I've also called the rivers finished after four coats of gloss varnish ( still no photos and I've put them away for the evening now.. damn. Must remember to take some pics) Which means there's only the buildings and hedges left to do for the terrain, both very minor jobs.

Jonesy's coming around again tomorrow and together we shall attack the vehicle park.

Speaking of vehicles, I received two more lots of resin in the post today from Scotia Grendel. Many, many moons ago Grendel produced a fantasy wargame called Leviathan, which included steampunk dwarves with a selection of steam tanks. I ordered two, the Thunder Hammer and the Iron Drake. They're very reasonably priced (£10 each) for which you get quite a chunk of resin. The casting is much cleaner than the Ramshackle Iron Grumbler, but will still require a little bit of sanding and filling, and there's plenty of detail including a gorgeous dragon silhouette cast onto either side of the Thunder Hammer that's just begging to be picked out with a little drybrushing. It also has a beautifully detailed crew compartment, complete with a pile of coal in the corner ready to be shovelled into the firebox.

The Iron Drake on the other hand has the top half of a driver figure as an integral part of the casting, which is a bit of a problem since Leviathan used very, very heroic 28mm figures (they quote 32mm toe-to-eye for a normal human) and the dwarven proportions make the driver look way, way too big for a 28mm human, so this is going to require a fair bit of cutting and sanding to remove cleanly. It might be easier to scratchbuild a casemate to enclose the driver with just the vehicle's weapon poking out the front.

They arrived pretty quickly but my Iron Drake seems to have arrived with some parts missing. I've popped off an email to Scotia Grendel so we'll have to see what they say.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Thunder Hammer for 28mm VSF. The Iron Drake is a lovely vehicle too, but will require more work due to the driver figure issue. I'm probably not going to bother trying to get either of them ready for the game next Sunday, unless we get all the vehicles completed tomorrow in which case I might throw the Thunder Hammer together just for fun.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Many rivers to cross

A good day on the terrain building front today. I drybrushed the last of the resin stone walls, then painted the bases on all the wall sections with Burnt Umber. I'm going to give them a patchy flocking and possibly flock the bushes in a lighter tone and then they'll be done.

I also did the base flocking on all the polystyrene hills. I think I'm going to add a couple of patches of lighter flock to give them variety and possibly fill in some thin patches, and they'll also be done.

Finally I gave the river sections a spray with matt varnish to try to fix the kitty litter stones & sand a little more securely, flocked all the river banks and gave the water area their first coat of gloss varnish. All these really need is a few more coats and they too will be done, although I may have to sand the ends a little to ensure they fit together snugly.

All this progress on the terrain is at the expense of the figures. Four infantry units and two of cavalry sit mockingly on the painting table. I'm going to have to double-up efforts to get these done in time - three of the infantry units are partially complete and my goal is to finish these off by the end of the week. That will leave the two units of cavalry and several vehicles to finish next week.

I think I'm going to be OK for character figures. The plan is rather than give the players pre-generated main characters, each player gets a free choice of figure (from a selection of about 18), which we will then roll up as an Adventurer as per G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. One tweak I might bring in for them from my own Adventures and Expeditions by G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. is the wounding rules - each failed Save roll advances the character's wound status by one rank and requires another Save check. So the first failed Save means the character is Wounded and must roll again. If the second Save is also failed, that means they are Seriously Wounded and must make a third Save roll. If that fails, the character is Mortally Wounded and will die after a suitable dying speech. This mechanic makes the players' personal characters a little more resilient than vanilla G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. Main Characters, but there's still always the danger that a run of three bad die rolls can put them down in a single attack.

As an aside, while I've been working on terrain or figures this week, I've been listening to the audiobook of Gust Front by John Ringo, part of the Posleen War series which tells the story of modern day earth adapting to the threat of invasion by an implacable alien foe. Ringo has a very distinctive authorial voice, and most of his military characters are very sympathetic which I like, but may not be to everyone's taste. It's not Shakespeare and not particularly G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T.y, but it's easy and enjoyable listening.

Bedtime reading at the moment is a little more appropriate - I've loaded the Kindle up with The General series by S.M. Stirling and David Drake. Set on a colony world after the fall of an interstellar federation, where the technology has regressed to roughly 19th century levels, it tells the story of General Raj Whitehall who, inspired and guided by an ancient battle-computer that's linked to his mind, goes on to conquer and reunite the world. If that sounds at all familiar, it could be because Drake recycled the premise and inspiration for his more recent Belisarius series in collaboration with Eric Flint. Apart from a few minor details - the colony didn't have horses so its cavalry uses giant 1000lb riding dogs - the battle descriptions wouldn't seem out of place in a 19th century adventure story, and the series makes for excellent semi-steampunky reading.

Saturday, 16 July 2011

Another Portable Wargame game

I've just finished playing another solitaire wargame using Bob Cordery's Portable Wargame rules and Heroscape hex terrain. The scenario was based on number 19 - River Assault from CS Grant's "Scenarios for Wargames". This time I filled my entire coffee table with Heroscape hexes, which looked great but was, I think, a little too large for the PW forces involved (24 hexes wide with only 17 units on the largest side) plus I wound up spending longer setting up the terrain than I did actually fighting the battle. The forces were thrown together from the 15mm nineteenth century collection, with an Anglo-Egyptian force facing off against those dastardly Russkies again. Perhaps this was a clash in a particularly fertile area of northern Olistan?

I won't give a full battle report, as most of it was pretty much a grindhouse as the main Russian Assault tried to cross the river under the shelter of the two wooded areas. The British moved out their one unit of cavalry and one unit of infantry from the town and brought in the Highlander Reserve from the farm on the right in order to try to meet the crossing on the river bank. They enjoyed considerable success initially, wiping out the cavalry who led the first wave across the water (the scenario rules stated that there were only enough boats for three units to cross at any given time), but eventually the weight of numbers and supporting fire took its toll on the Anglo-Egyptians.

Meanwhile on the other flank, the two sides traded artillery and rifle fire fairly ineffectually throughout most of the game, neither side getting more than pins until the last couple of turns of the game. By that time the main assault had managed to secure a tenuous foothold on the riverbank with one surviving member of the second wave of infantry, which was soon re-inforced by the third wave which crossed largely unopposed. The British had a number of reinforcements that they were due to receive at random intervals throughout the game, which started arriving in penny packets after turn 8, at which point the Russians had secured their bridgehead and combined with a lousy series of activation dice rolls were too little too late to turn the tide. By the end of the game on Turn 13, the Russians had five units safely across the river, with two more about to cross more or less unopposed directly into the town itself.

Despite being something of a grind, it was still an exciting game and the result was in doubt right up until the end. I'm still sold on the Portable Wargame & Heroscape as my solo-gaming platform of choice.

I've had a couple of thoughts as a result of this game. Firstly, I need to scale down the terrain and/or work out a quicker way to approximate the layout from the scenarios. It took far too long to setup, and because the armies were so small for the area of terrain, there was a lot of pre-contact manoeuvring that took far to long to play out, although it was mitigated by the fact that I deployed the troops according to the scenario rather than the "two hexes in" recommended by the PW rules.

Secondly, Bob's mentioned on his blog today that one of the questions that came up from his COW playtests was what to do about multiple Pin results on a single unit. His thought was to allow them, and to require multiple activation points to unpin. My gut feeling is that Pinned should be a binary state - you're either pinned or you're not, and the marker is just there to indicate this. Otherwise I can see it leading to two undesirable scenarios.

1) Instead of spreading fire across the enemy forces, a "canny" player unrealistically concentrates all his fire on a single unit, racking up multiple Pins over a couple of rounds. This makes the affected unit almost impossible to unpin, even several rounds after they are no longer under fire. It's a highly cheesy/beardy and entirely unrealistic tactic, and reminds me of a Games Workshop epic-scale battle I once saw played, where on a given turn every single unit on one player's side fired at the same very high value and high powered unit on the other.

2) Even without such deliberate gamesmanship, a bad series of Activation dice could see a unit accrue multiple pin results from a single enemy over the course of several turns. Again, that unit becomes almost impossible to recover, even after the enemy is long gone.

Since the Napoleonic portable Portable Wargame is primarily a solitaire project, I forsee it developing as a fork of Bob's original rules, using his system as a core but reflecting my own biases and ideas, as well as any period specific tweaks needed for Napoleonic warfare. I'd also really like to see if the system can be tweaked to give an ultra-modern operational level game, with maybe two 1/300 vehicles representing a company.

I'm sure Bob, standing as he is on the shoulders of Morchauser, won't mind.

In other news I received an order from Ramshackle games today. To try them out I ordered the Iron Grumbler APC, with a view to converting it to something a little more steampunky. First off, the parcel arrived incredibly well packed. Not only were the pieces protected by the usual bubble-wrap, in a padded envelope, but the pieces were also split between two disposable plastic tubs, exactly the sort of thing you might use to save leftovers for reheating later. One was sadly broken in transit (though rather the tub than the resin) but the other one will prove handy, which is a bonus. Secondly, for only £9 this thing is frikkin huge, dwarfing the more expensive Ironclad steam tanks.

The downside is that this has to be one of the roughest resin-cast vehicles I have ever seen. Part of that is forgivable, since it's part of a post-apocalyptic range and supposed to have been cobbled together from scrap. But even allowing for a fairly chunky, orky build, there are some places where you really need to have a clean cast, and in this case the problem area is the track treads. There's a lot of very thick, chunky flash clogging up both track units I received, and it's going to require a lot of trimming and sanding to get them to a usable state.

I think I'm going to have to give Ramshackle another try, this time with one of the more polished looking vehicles like the much more steampunky Brass Coffin.

Plus I've just discovered they produce a figure called "Isembard Kickass Brunel". It Shall Be Mine! Huzzah!

Thursday, 14 July 2011

All in all you're just a.....

Work continues apace on the Big Birthday Game project. On the figure painting front I've hit something of an impasse with the Ironclad Miniatures guardsmen. For some reason I'm finding them horrendously fiddly to paint, even to my crude "tabletop dipped" standard. What didn't help was the pretty horrendous blocking in the gap between the rifle, arm and body of the Ironclad soldiers. It's not just a thin film of flashing, it's quite a solid chunk of metal between there that took quite a bit of drilling and filing, which didn't do the surrounding detail much good. I'd not noticed it before, it's so rare to see it in white metal figures these days that you don't tend to look for it. (As an aside, the long awaited Ironclad steam tanks turned up last Friday. They look a lot smaller when compared to the Atlantis steam tanks, which ought to make them a more even match.

Having primed all the cavalry horses for both sides in Army Painter Leather Brown, I've made a start on preparing the cavalry riders for painting. I'd been puzzling how best to prime them - spraying them lying flat on a surface means they have a nasty tendency to stick to the surface and pulling them away leaves gaps in the priming. I've seen horsemen temporarily glued to bases, but that would leave the points of contact with the base unpainted. A quick google followed by a search around the flat for parts produced this uncomfortable looking solution.

The push-pins are secured to the plastic bottle caps with a large blob of hot glue gun glue. This elevates them enough to keep the figure's feet in the air. The round flat tops of the pins are cut off leaving the slightly narrower shaft, and a smaller blob of glue fixes it to the figure's... well let's just say "nether side". Hot glue gun glue is easily removed, and the unpainted area will be hidden when the rider is mounted on the horse (in fact I'm thinking of keeping the riders & horses separate for storage and transport and attaching them with blobs of blu-tack during play.

We now have a firmer idea of how many players to expect for the game. Barring the inevitable last minute cancellation, we should be looking at 6-8 players, not massive but big enough to make a party of it. This also means that I can scale down what troops I need to get ready for the game. The recommendation for GASLIGHT participation games is that players should each run one units of extras, one vehicle and one unattached Main Character. I'm going to stretch this a little bit, aiming for two units of extras, two vehicles/walkers and one unattached Main Character. The field guns are going to be axed unfortunately, and we'll wind up not using half of the vehicles I've got, but there'll be enough to keep everyone busy.

The work on the terrain continues. I've been painting all of the old Britains walls I've converted, along with all the straight wall sections bought from Total System Scenic. They've been sprayed with grey primer, then given a coat of Army Painter Quickshade to pick out all the detail. This tinted the walls a lot browner than I'd wanted, so I followed up with an ash-grey drybrushing over the top. I was afraid the glossy Quickshade finish wouldn't take paint well, but the results were really quite good. I've now got the corner and T-sections to do, followed by the detailing and wooden gateposts and finally flocking the bases.

I've also done a bit more work on the river sections, which are coming together nicely. Yesterday I painted the banks and the basic water area, so they're actually starting to look a bit more riverish. Today added sand and loose stones to the rivers edge and started painting & flocking the polystyrene hills.

As an aside, yesterday I received another parcelpalooza from the nice man in the red van. Along with another selection of Army Painter colour primers, I received the second batch of zombies from MegaMinis in the US. The sculpts are incredibly varied in both style and quality, some of the figures looking more like very bad miscasts than deliberate zombies. But they're very reasonably priced and some of the figures have tons of character, which is what you want to break up the generic horde of Wargames Factory & GW plastics and the fairly bland Victory Force metal figures. I've ordered the final batch from MegaMinis - packs 5 and 6, and that'll be it for the zombie collection. All told that should be just shy of 200 zeds to be assembled and painted.

The other big parcel yesterday was from Transport Models containing a bulk order of 1/72 plastic Napoleonic figures. Turnaround was very fast, the boxes were very well packed and I thoroughly recommend them for mail order. The dozen or so boxes of figures will be more than enough to make enough units for the Portable Wargame to refight any of the battles from Programmed Wargames Scenarios (and although I haven't checked, I suspect they'll be able to handle anything from Scenarios For Wargames or Scenarios For All Ages too). There'll be enough figures left over to be based singly for skirmish gaming using Song of Drum and Shakos as well, something I've been meaning to try for ages.

I decided to try to put together the Napoleonic armies for the Portable Wargame for several reasons. Firstly, it's a period that I've never played. Apart from knowing some basics of the history and elementary tactics, I'm far from an expert on the period. This means I get the joy of learning bits and pieces from a new period, as well as being able to focus on the games as games rather than exercises in historical recreation. Secondly, the troop types involved are relatively straightforward translations from the army lists in the scenario book. Finally at 9p-14p each for infantry and 35p for cavalry, it's ridiculously cheap to put together a respectable Portable Wargame force - one pack of infantry, one of cavalry and one of artillery could be had for under £15, which is less than I paid for one unit of 28mm cavalry from Irregular Miniatures (and they're at the bottom end of the price scale - other manufacturers could easily set you back over £30 for ten horse.) I've paid a bit more than that, since I wanted to represent a wider variety of troop types (Heavy and Light cavalry, light infantry) and because a couple of troop types that were only available in the more expensive Italeri packs. But as mentioned, those packs represent more figures than I'm ever going to need for The Portable Wargame, even if I double the number of units required in all but the largest scenarios.

Now I just have to force myself to put them to one side while the GASLIGHT stuff gets finished first!

Monday, 11 July 2011

How many metaphors are there for "Things didn't go as planned"?

I'm seriously thinking this blog should be renamed to "Best Laid Plans Of Mice And Wargamers" or something like that.

After the painting frenzy at the start of the week I slacked off a little bit, mainly doing other bits and pieces. The artillery tractors are all nearly done, one german vehicle just needs rivets adding to the scratchbuilt flatbed. It's funny how in English, "riveting" means something that's incredibly exciting, while in the world of steampunk stratchbuilding, it's the most fiddly, monotonous process imaginable.

Then on Friday I had family duties, taking care of my elderly and bed-bound mother while my father had a hospital visit. It's not quite as onerous as it sounds, in between preparing and serving the odd meal it was a good opportunity to sit quietly with no distractions and assemble card buildings. But after I'd gone home and was preparing for the regular Friday meal & video night with Jonesy, my father called up saying he'd been called by the hospital and had to go in urgently for a blood transfusion. So I had to drop everything and head round to take care of Mum while he was in hospital. Which totally screwed up the planned weekend painting session with Jonesy, and makes it a bit of a challenge to get the rest of the figures painted over the next three weeks.

While sat at my parents house, without internet access (which for a tech geek like me is like saying "without oxygen") it did occur to me that this would have been the perfect use case for a genuinely Portable Wargame. Something compact and self contained that I could have just grabbed and used to setup and play a modest battle with. Unfortunately as it stands, the bits I've set asside for Portable Wargame duties fill an under-bed plastic box and two plastic crates, and then some. Clearly some streamlining is required to create a genuinely portable Portable Wargame setup.

I made a start, picking out a selection of Heroscape tiles which I think have enough variety to allow a flexible terrain setup on a 10 x 12 grid (the optimum size made by four of the large tiles combined together.) About a dozen 15mm trees and a Town In A Bag for buildings. A roll of masking tape for creating roads. About a dozen dice in two different colours. So far that lot fits nicely in a single plastic under-bed box.

Then onto troops. I've got my 15mm 19th Century/Colonial figures which would need rebasing and painting , but right now I'm really tempted to head up the M61 to Preston's Tranport Models and picking up a selection of Napoleonic 1/72 plastics.



.... order from them over the web.

I'm weak I know. But it's been one of those weekends. Now, back to the painting.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

The March Of Progress!

Yesterday I managed an officer, sergeant and two troopers to finish off the unit I started the day before, plus a staff officer. Yesterdays figures were tidied up, and turned out to not be as bad as I'd feared (who says you need to be able to see a figure to paint it?) and the whole lot are Quickshaded and ready for the bases to be textured. I also more or less finished the conversion on the Atlantis trucks that will be the prime movers for the British artillery, and made a good start building up the body of the tractors that will be their German counterparts.

I've been thinking further on the subject of the 1938: Very British Civil War setting. There's something compelling about the idea of civil war. There's the "brother against brother" element of tragedy, plus the irregular and sometimes colourful forces that always seem to crop up in civil conflicts. VBCW seems to be the most prominent example at the moment.

But it's not the only hypothetical English Civil War 2/3 (depending on how you count it) that's floating around out there. Back in the 1990s James Clay wrote a series of articles about a hypothetical UK civil war as an alternative setting for ultra-modern wargaming (I actually ran a couple of successful RPG adventures in the setting using Twilight 2000). More recently Steve Blease has resurrected the idea with his England Prevails blog, which has some great mocked up late 1980s news reports.

Winter of '79 looks at the potential for civil unrest in a slightly earlier period, following the Winter Of Discontent and the fall of the Callaghan government and the election of Margaret Thatcher. It's a plausible premise which lends itself to using early Cold War and Falklands-era figures, and the late 1970s/early 1980s setting lets you draw on TV shows like The Sweeney, The Professionals or the more recent Life On Mars for inspiration for more urban, low level police action.

Heading the other way, the sadly short lived Un-Tied Kingdom blog brought the idea bang up to date, positing a civil war resulting from the 2010 hung election. Not much there by way of actual gaming since the creator decided to switch scale mid-project from 20mm to 28mm and hasn't posted in the 6 months since. But there's plenty of interesting background and analysis to make it worth a read.

So how could we work up a hypothetical English Civil War in a Victorian/Steampunk era? It turns out to be quite an easy fit. Following the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria withdrew from public life to mourn. Her absence encouraged a rise in republican sentiment, including one wag who posted a sign on the gates of Buckingham Palace stating "these commanding premises to be let or sold in consequence of the late occupant's declining business". Victoria did continue to carry out her constitutional duties during her self-imposed isolation, but if she hadn't, this would potentially have led to a constitutional crisis. As it was, the scandal over her close relationship to John Brown, and the formation of the French "Third Republic" led to an atmosphere where in 1871 there was a republican rally in Trafalgar Square calling for Victoria to be replaced.

If we take the VBCW approach and look at potentially colourful elements we can throw into the melting pot, an 1870s Civil War has much to offer. The Cardwell Reforms (1868-1874) was a number of measures put in place to modernise the British Army which was still mired in the practices put place from Wellington's day. This gives us a good rationale for disgruntled officers choosing to join the "rebels". It also withdrew British troops from self-governing colonies, which would see a lot of colonial troops returning to the homeland. In reality the black Home Service helmet wasn't adopted until 1877, but if we bend the timeline a little and pull that date forward, we can hypothetically rationalise a wargame with Crimean era shakos, colonial sun-helmets and black Home Service helmets all on the same table.

The year 1871 also saw the legalisation of Trade Unions, and this era was a time of labour unrest, so we can bring in Union backed forces. More radical groups could easily see the formation of irregular "workers militias" agitating for even greater reforms.

The House of Saxe-Coberg-Gotha on the continent would not let their most prominent monarch be deposed without lending a hand and combined with states allied through the marriages of Victoria's daughters, could lead to the presence of foreign interventionist forces from all over Europe, including Germany, Belgium, Portugal and Bulgaria to name but a few. On the Republican side, it's certain the French "Troisieme Republique" would send aid and forces to their British counterparts. And don't forget our old hypothetical Fenian friends, equipped in freshly surplus ACW gear, who would be fighting for independence from the crown.

That's just a very short, broad overview of the possibilities, but it's certain that this "Winter of 187x" has just as much scope for colourful wargaming as its later counterparts.

Monday, 4 July 2011

The scores on the doors

Technically, I managed the target I set myself yesterday of getting a half-unit painted from start to finish. Ish. In actual fact, I was working on a batch of six Germans, who I wanted to get out of the way because they all have improvised gas masks (being Renegade early WWI figures). The first painting session this morning went really well, but I left it far too late in the day to start the second painting session. I did get every course of paint applied, but by the last few the combination of slightly fading light and tired eyes meant I could barely focus on the miniatures. I know I made a ton of mistakes and the figures are going to need a lot of tidying up tomorrow before I Quickshade them, but technically they are "painted".

Which is not to say I didn't get a hell of a lot of other stuff done today. I've applied the base colour to three Armourcast quad walkers, which will be joining the German side. I started converting the second Atlantis steam tractor (if you've seen the film, it's the one with the huge barrel body that contains the balloon) and got it to the same stripped down state as the first. The next step will be to build up a flatbed cargo compartment to turn it into an artillery prime mover. I did a little more painting on two Atlantis-based gun trucks, bringing them to about 50% complete. I also finished basing the rest of the cavalry horses and all the Jaegers, which means that all the troops I'm planning to have done for the Big Game are now based and on the painting table. Finally I've just primed four Atlantis steam-tanks as British land-ships. Rather than paint them in traditional "tank" colours, I'm playing up the land-ship angle and painting them using the Royal Navy pre-dreadnought colour scheme of black body, white turret and ochre smokestacks.

I found what might be a really good resource for VSF vehicles. Ramshackle Games produce a range of resin vehicles for what looks like a post-apocalyptic skirmish game. A couple of them look perfect for steampunk games, looking patched together (remember yesterday I was wondering what vehicles for the Fenians?) or full of cogs and pistons. But more usefully still, they sell the resin parts for all their vehicles individually, so you can get large, toothed wheels or track sections in several styles at very reasonable prices. Excellent if you want to scratchbuild something but want a head start with the trickier parts. I've ordered a vehicle from them to see what the service is like.

I'm still waiting, I'm very sorry to say, for the three steam tanks that I bought from Ironclad Miniatures at Phalanx. Their figures are beautifully proportioned, and I would love to be ordering more vehicles and British soldiery from them right now (or at least, when the painting table is cleared), but I'm reluctant to send any more money their way until they come up with the goods. When you say "We'll take your money now, and post the product to you on Monday" you'd better damn well post the damned product on Monday as promised. Otherwise you won't be taking my money again any time soon.

The last time this happened to me was years ago, when Marbeth Designs (who I can happily name, since they are no longer trading) came to MAWS with a trade stand one Sunday. I splashed out some cash on a few vehicles and wanted a full platoon of an APC called a HannMag. He didn't have enough with him, so said he'd send them to me when he got back to home base. And that was the last I heard from him. Marbeth didn't have a web presence, and I didn't have contact details, so when my patience did run out, I was left rather in the lurch. Eighteen months later, I was down at Salute with Amazon Miniatures (who sadly also appear to no longer be trading) and as luck would have it the chap from Marbeth had a stand right next to where we're running the demo game. So I went and collared him and asked about the vehicles, expecting him to have forgotten all about the vehicles I'd ordered from him so long ago.

"Oh yes." he replied, "I have them here, I'll bring them over to you later." It was as if there was nothing wrong, like I'd only just ordered them minutes ago. No explanation for the delay, but on the other hand no protestations of ignorance as after all I didn't really have any way to prove I'd ordered them from him.

The punch line? When he did bring them over he said "Now for variety I've done you two of the regular APC bodies and two of the Engineering variant. OK?"

I gave up, took the mismatched platoon home from Salute, put them in a box where they sat untouched till this very day and abandoned all plans for 25mm SF gaming.

Fortunately in today's more connected age, I have an email and web address for Ironclad and have chased them up a little sooner this time. John from Ironclad said last week he'd be posting the tanks "in the next couple of days" so all I can do now is wait.

Roll on Salute 2012.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Painting for colour-blind dummies with the shakes who really don't like painting. In a bag.

I think I might have cracked the secret of how to maintain maximum painting output. Painting the figures individually was OK, but still no quicker than the production line method. I did about half a unit of Germans as individuals in two sessions, but after painting three figures completely I found myself losing motivation. So for the rest of the unit I switched back to the production line, and the five of them came together very quickly in two sessions, while also doing some work on other figures to keep things different. So that's the secret I think. Use the production line, but limit it to small half-unit batches, and keep mixing things up doing the odd individual figure at the same time.

Incidentally that's my third unit of German infantry completed. Three more regulars (one of which Jonesy started last weekend) and two of Jagers and that'll be the lot. They were also the first unit based primarily on WWI figures, which meant they were carrying a lot more baggage than the West Wind Zendarian Troopers who made up the bulk of the first two units. It's also the first unit I've painted using the Army Painter Colour Primer method, spraying the figure with an Ultramarine Blue basecoat and only painting pants and detail over that. It seems to work fine, and I much prefer the AP Ultramarine to the craft acrylic colour I had been using. I'm considering getting a green for the Jagers and possibly a red for any future British infantry I might want to do.

I have two units of British also on the painting table, one of which is 25% in progress. That will just leave the cavalry & artillery, and of course the vehicles (which I'm hoping won't be too difficult). And four weeks to do them in. Oh and the terrain, of course. Geez. What have I let myself in for!

For the purposes of the "birthday wargame" if all that white metal gets painted, we'll have a large German force being opposed by an uneasy alliance between the British and an "Evil Genius" force made up of Parroom Staion Masked Minions and Design 28 Iron Men, plus assorted random steambots. In the long term I'd like to build up all three forces to the same overall level so any one would be a good match for the others. Since my imagined "Invasion England 188x" setting involves a dual front German/Russian invasion, further down the line I want to work up the forces of the Tsar. I've decided the Wild Wild West toy-based vehicles I have would be suited to the Russian forces, having a distinctive, more primitive look about them.

Ignoring the various colonial & native figures I have in my lead mountain, I've always wanted to do a 19th century Fenian army for G.A.S.L.I.G.H.T. inspired by the real life Fenian force in the Battle of Ridgeway, or the more fanciful example in Harry Harrison's "I Hate The British" trilogy (better known as "Stars And Stripes"). Equipped with Civil War surplus uniforms died green, and armed with "Trapdoor Springfield" breechloaders, they could easily be represented quite inexpensively with a box of Perry Miniatures ACW plastics. I'm not sure what vehicles and contraptions the Fenians would have. Lighter armoured cars perhaps, the sort that could have been put together in secret in sheds and barns across Ireland.

I also spent an hour or so assembling a couple more buildings for the village, using Dave Graffam Models buildings pasted over foamcore frames. Now I've got the technique for them down pat I plan to rattle off a half dozen small cottages quite quickly, plus three or four larger buildings. Although I did buy one, I'm not sure I'm going to do a church, since the construction is a lot more complex. I've ordered a batch of resin-cast walls from Total System Scenic, plus I managed to find my old Britains dry stone walls, which while designed for 54mm farm sets, work quite well in 28mm for taller walls. They're amongst my oldest wargaming accessories, and for this project I'm finally going to get around to basing and painting them properly. With the river and the hills all about half done, the trees based and just needing flocking, I think the terrain is the closest part of this whole project to being completed.

Tomorrow's resolution - complete a half unit of infantry, by hook or by crook. Wanna see if I manage it? Tune in tomorrow to find out!