What's your hobby?
As someone reading a wargaming blog, you might be tempted to reply "well wargaming, durrr" but things aren't necessarily so clear cut.
I was pondering this in response to the return to the blogosphere of Solo Wargaming in the UK. Carl, who I'd like to think of as a friend although we've never met or even corresponded, has been going through some tough times in recent months that we won't dwell on here, and in response took a step back from blogging and gaming while real-world issues played themselves out.
Now personally, based on my own experience, I believe that to be a mistake. It's exactly those times that put us under the most pressure, when it's most helpful to have a hobby to fall back on and help us unwind. My time blogging here has roughly coincided with a significant decline in my father's health to the point where we are now considering the worst. I've found picking up the wargaming hobby again to be a great therapy and playing around with toy soldiers a great way to decompress.
I'm pleased to say Carl has also come around to enjoy some "gaming therapy" but his postings along those lines were all about painting miniatures. Which got me pondering - I think pretty much all of the posts at Solo Wargaming In The UK have been about painting or terrain building or some other form of gaming prep, rather than any actual gaming reports. And there's nothing really wrong with that.. our hobby is so all-engrossing that one could keep oneself entertained for years without ever actually playing a wargame. There's research, which can not just include proper academic research but also reading appropriate fiction and watching TV and Films to help get into the mood. There's figure painting, terrain building, rules writing. And then of course there's blogging about the hobby, taking part in online discussion forums or even writing for one of the remaining wargaming print periodicals. And... dare I say it... Hats?!!
Now I'm a great advocate of the "Go Play!" fad that swept the RPG community online a few years back but sadly seems to have died out. You may still see forum avatars with small green "play button" symbols in them, like mine on this blog. The idea behind "Go Play!" is that gamers have a tendency to spend too much time discussing games, buying games, reading games, re-writing games... effectively doing all of the peripherary aspects of the hobby except the core crux of the hobby - actually playing and enjoying the games themselves. I think the same thinking can be applied to the wargaming hobby as well.
So while I may enjoy many of the other aspects of the hobby, at the end of the day they're really all just a stepping stone towards the real reward, which is putting figures and terrain on a table and having a jolly fun game of toy soldiers.
So the new regime of "Family Duty" has me retasked as a full-time carer for my parents. Fortunately that's not quite as onerous as it may sound, since in between preparing meals and medication and doing general chores, there's an awful lot of sitting around waiting, time which I've been able to turn towards the other aspects of the wargaming hobby. Here are the next tranche of steamtanks, assembled and awaiting primer. The front three are the Scotia Grendel dwarven steam tanks from the Leviathan fantasy range, the same as the "Thunder Hammer" mentioned previously. On the left is the heavily converted "Iron Drake" which used to have an exposed dwarven driver figure. I've removed that, filled the top surface with Milliput and added a turret from Ramshackle Games "Tridlins" catalogue. Removing the original driver and weapon proved quite an irritating challenge, so I'm electing to leave the original driver and weapon intact for the Rapier (right) which seems to be armed with some sort of harpoon launcher. Front and centre is the Ironclad, whose multiple rocket launcher is just crying out for some sort of custom rule in GASLIGHT to make it suitably random and chaotic.
At the back, and shown in greater detail here is the customised "Brass Coffin" from Ramshackle Games. An extra set of large wheels, the smokestack from the Huntsman Spider Tank and a turret (I think from the Liger) go together in such a natural way, I'm surprised Ramshackle haven't released this as an "official" variant model. I'd love to take credit for this design, but all plaudits have to go to Papa Midnight over at the Lead Adventure Forums, who did this first and, it has to be said, a lot better than I've done it.
So painting. I've developed a weird relationship with figure painting recently. Bottom line is that I'm no good at it. I'm colour blind (and yes, there may be one or two greenish horses in my collection), have shaky hands and in the last year have found that I'm totally incapable of actually focusing my eyes on paintbrush and figure close enough to apply any sort of controlled detail. In 25 years of gaming I've tried all the "how to paint figures" tutorials - used various techniques - black undercoat, white undercoat, grey undercoat, outline and fill, drybrushing, washes, shadow, colour and highlight..... really all of them. And I've practiced and practiced and practiced.... and I still suck ass.
So nowadays I've given it all up and settled on the "technique" that gives me the best results.... dipping.
I first read of the "magic dip" technique back at the turn of the millennium, where US gamers were generally using Minwax Polyshades
floor stain & varnish. I tried it with the nearest UK alternative I could find - the black "Tudor" stain didn't seem to be available so I went with the darkest brown I could. The result gave a better overall effect than I could ever hope to achieve with other techniques, and I could quite happily live with the high-gloss finish especially since it seemed to be well-nigh bulletproof.
Pause for eight years.
Army Painter came along and brought out their "Quickshade" range of varnish/stains aimed specifically at the wargamer. Now these are significantly more expensive than the floor products in the DIY stores, but you have to take Army Painter's word that these products are new formulations that are optimised for figure painting and not just the floor finish poured into new cans. Besides, used carefully a single tin can last a while (I've done all my GASLIGHT figures and Jonesy's Force On Force figures and are still less than halfway through my first can).
So these are the figures I've been painting during odd moments over the last week or so. I'm not quite sure why I started collecting unarmed Victorian Civilian figures - in fact I started before I ever had any thought of switching from 15mm to 28mm. A few scattered around a battlefield might add a bit of colour to proceedings. They are a mix of manufacturers (Foundry, Westwind, Eureka, Blue Moon, Parroom Station). In keeping with my own personal vision of the 19th century, I've gone for a slightly brighter palette than you normally see for Victoriana miniatures, but this matches the "toy soldier" look I use for the troops. The two sets of photos show the "before" with just the base colour coats and "after" immediately after applying the Quickshade. Personally I don't physically dip my minis, as the approved Army Painter technique of "shaking off the excess" seems to just be a recipe for wastage. Instead I take a size 8 brush and dip it about 5mm into the Quickshade, and apply that brushload to the front of the figure, then pick up a similar brushload and apply it to the back. I then spend 5 mins spreading the varnish and stain around, mopping up any excessive sized pools and generally neatening up the results.
The results? You often hear naysayers claim they could easily get the same results and better using ink washes and conventional techniques, so what's special about this "magic dip"? But they miss the point... I cannot get figures looking as good as this using those other techniques. And I certainly couldn't paint any significant numbers in a reasonable length of time. If you can, then bully for you, but if I want to get the painted white metal onto the gaming table, then this is the method that works best for me.
So there I am, wincing as I strain my eyes to focus on the figure, jerkily waving the brush in what I hope is roughly the right area for the part I'm trying to paint and hoping I'll be able to tidy it up later. I'm doing what most other figure painters would consider only a quarter of the job, and falling back on a speedpainting "cheat" that gives passable wargames-quality results. At no part in the process do I feel like I'm having "fun", and yet, overall, I'm finding it strangely enjoyable and relaxing.