Wednesday, 30 November 2011

We do what we must, because we can.

Or in other words, "I'm still alive"

It's always been my intention to keep this blog firmly focussed on the wargaming and not let it become just another personal vanity "dear diary" blog. But the fact is that how we get to enjoy our hobby as wargamers is inextricably linked to our "real life" circumstances.  For example, as a bachelor, I've never had to placate a significant other or "get approval from the finance committee" for any gaming purchases, much less smuggle them in to the house while she's out.  When I read of other gamers having to go to these lengths, or worse still even being forced to give up their hobby by their partners,  I thank my lucky stars, then go online and order £20 of wargames figures that I don't really need, just to prove I can.

But I do have other commitments and last week they kinda took over my life completely. The Wednesday before my previous post, I went to my parents' house earlier than normal to help with the delivery of my dad's new bed, the long awaited finishing touch to his new bedroom, only to find him in a terrible state with vomiting and other sordid nastiness.  With both he and my mum housebound, I naturally stayed to take care of them both (Q: what's worse than sleeping on a fold-out sofa bed? A: NOT sleeping on a fold-out sofa bed.).   The following night, as described in the last post, my mother's health took a turn for the worse, and I found myself laid low by the vomiting bug too.  Friday was spent desperately trying to get some nursing help for my mother, since I was rendered incapable, and after a day of being bounced from one NHS department to the next, at 5pm while waiting for the "rapid response" nursing team to arrive to assess her, she had a fall and had to be taken into hospital.  ('Merkin readers of the Heffalump Party please take note that, incandescently furious as I am with this day's farcical events, this is the first time since either parent was diagnosed that their treatment from our nationalised health service has been anything other than top notch.)

The good news is that there was no significant damage done in the fall and after initially wanting to discharge her immediately, the hospital staff observed her deteriorated condition and treated her to build her back up to a state where she can once again be cared for at home.  Meanwhile I was able to get over the effects of the bug in a couple of days and have since been largely focussed on nursing my dad, who with his weakened immune system is only just now getting back to his old self, nearly two weeks later.

So this chunk of real life has had a big negative impact on any gaming activity.  No Novembre Civil War solo games, another planned GASLIGHT event had to be called off (two of the participants instead gave Tomorrows War a try, and apparently had more success with it than we'd had with Force On Force and no more Sunday sratchbuilding sessions with Mi Hermano del Constructor, Jonesy).

But all has not been lost.  Before this little episode I'd begun to refocus on the work we had been doing on the Sunday scratchbuild sessions, namely the Victorian city terrain layout.  The scratchbuilds were going to be fine for the bottom-of-the-barrel slums, but looking at some of the beautiful work being done on the Lead Adventure forums, I knew that anything more decorous was going to be beyond my scratchbuilding skills.  So I started looking at what suitable buildings were available and, well let's be honest, gave my credit card a good pre-Christmas thrashing (see above re: lack of spousal financial controller).

PMC Games sell exclusively via eBay and produce several ranges of buildings, one of which is designed for the Very British Civil War period, but can be used for the late Victorian era.  The buildings are mainly resin and come pre-painted so they're ready to play with only a little assembly required.  The prices, for pre-painted buildings, are phenomenally good, though PMC are a little slow to deliver and you have to get used to their strange way of using eBay.  Instead of using the "Buy It Now" feature, all items are put up as normal auctions, but with very short times (one or two days).  If someone has already bid on an item, then rather than counter bid driving the price up, simply wait a couple of days for the auction to complete and the item will be re-listed as a new auction. It's a strange way of doing business, but as a one-man operation it allows PMC to limit the demand so that they're not overwhelmed with more orders than they can fulfil.
Table-ready in two minutes.

I bought the Bank model from them and after a long wait (though within their promised delivery time) I was quite pleased with what I got.  It's a fairly simple model that looks good on the tabletop, with a removable roof to allow figures to be concealed within the building (although the interior has no detailing).  My only reservation is that the brickwork effect is done with light sand coloured bricks and darker mortar, whereas I'd prefer it the other way around.  But despite this it looks good on the tabletop and I've ordered several more buildings from PMC Games.

Next up, on the Lead Adventure forums, Jim Bibbly, AKA Oshiro Model Terrain mentioned he'd been working on a Victorian Warehouse kit in laser-cut acrylic plastic, which he would be selling for £25.  While it was a little steeper price than I really wanted to pay, I wanted to encourage any Victorian-specific terrain manufacture, so although the building isn't on the Oshiro webstore yet, I contacted Mr Bibbly (not his real name, I suspect) and ordered one.  The kit arrived promptly and I was blown away by the beautiful laser-etched detail.  Basic assembly was simple and the windows and doors were kept separate so they could be spraypainted separately.  The roof came with pre-cut card strips with a tiling effect, a product which Oshiro sells separately.  Having done this manually for building models in the past I have to say this is absolutely brilliant and a massive timesaver.
Nice, but not as nice as it should have been.

Things went wrong for me when I came to paint the brick walls.  I started out trying to copy a technique I'd seen on the Lead Adventure forums, starting with a light undercoat and drybrushing the red brick colour on, which is supposed to leave the lighter colour in the recessed mortar areas.  Try as I might, I couldn't get a consistent effect across the whole model.  On one part of the model it would leave the mortar areas completely untouched by red, giving a very bold appearance, yet on other areas with the same paint load and brush stroke it would put more red paint into the mortar crevice than on the brick surface. I then tried the opposite process - a lighter wash to run into the recessed mortar areas, but again had inconsistent results.  I can't say if this was anything to do with the model itself, with different areas having been cut and etched in slightly different ways, or if it's just down to my ham-fisted painting skills.  But the resulting paint job I'm left with isn't anywhere near as good as the detailing on the model deserves.  My other beef with this building is the size.  For £25 it's absolutely tiny, smaller than my scratchbuild slum terraces.  I don't think I could call this a warehouse compared to the other buildings I have, but it'll do as a church hall or similar public building.  I'm not going to say it's not worth the £25 asking price - the detailing on the model and the quality of design go a long way to justify a premium price, but since I'm unable to get the most out of the detailing, I'd have to say that it's just not worth it for me, and sadly probably won't buy any more buildings from Oshiro.

Next up, Amera Plastic Mouldings produce terrain out of vac-formed plastic.  This process takes flat sheets of plastic which are heated and pulled over a mould by vacuum in order to shape them.  Amera produce both natural features and buildings in their range, and while I had my eye on their impressive Ministry Building from their Future Zone range for my city terrain, in order to try them out at a lower price break I ordered the church from their Fantasy Realms range for the princely sum of £7.95+P&P.
Assembled, added baseboard, matt black primer, WIP

When it arrived I was stunned by how big it was, easily three times the size of Oshiro's warehouse.  The nave came as a single moulded piece, with a number of separate buttress pieces that could be glued on.  The church tower came as four separate walls with a floor and flat roof piece, and two longer buttresses that could be glued to the corner.  The pieces went together easily with polystyrene cement, although I did find it useful to fill some of the gaps with filler, as well as smearing a little onto the walls in places to break up the too-perfect stone pattern.  I've currently got the building glued to a baseboard and undercoated black, and am pretty confident that a little drybrushing will have this table ready without too much more work.  It's surprisingly sturdy once secured to the basen yet still very lightweight, being a hollow plastic shell.  You certainly get a lot of terrain for your money and any qualms I had about vac-formed plastic are gone.  I've now ordered the Ministry which I expect will be the centrepiece of the city terrain.  In the meantime the church will serve equally well in rural based games, and I've bought a set of Renedra plastic gravestones in order to build an accompanying graveyard.

Next up (told you the credit card had been thrashed!) produce a range of laser-cut MDF building kits, again aimed at the VBCW market.  Their webstore doesn't give any size information, so for a trial I ordered two of their terraced houses (actually more like semi detached) which come in at the princely sum of £12.50 each.  Unlike the flat roofed slum terraces that We've been scratchbuilding, these come with gable roofs. The brickwork is laser-etched on and looks fantastic, and the windows are cutout and separate inserts are provided to glue to the inside of the building, so that it looks like the windows are recessed (exactly the same technique we're using for the scratchbuilds, funnily enough).  The building includes a walled back yard area (again exactly like our scratchbuilds) but also includes a small shed.
Walls, windows and doors painted, roof yet to be tiled. WIP

Daphne lets Binky in the Tradesmen's Entrance.

All is not perfect with these models.  The sloped roof is smooth and textureless and it's assumed that the buyer will add their own card tiles to finish it off (the pre-cut tiles from Oshiro would be perfect for this).  Also the window and door pieces are solid with the glass panes etched on, rather than being cut out.  This means you have to paint the glass part of the window, which might look a little cartoony if it's not done correctly.  Finally the biggest problem I have with these Warbases terraces is that they are frickin' huge, dwarfing the PMC Games bank.  In my experience, British brick terraced houses (as opposed to terraced town-houses) are small, pokey little affairs, which is how I've modelled my scratchbuilds.  These buildings are going to have to represent a signficantly better class of home than the slums.  Warbases also do a selection of other buildings compatible with the terraces.  I've skipped the shop and pub, but have put an order in for the two larger redbrick tenement buildings, which I hope will work with some of the larger city/industrial buildings.

Also in laser-cut MDF are the range of City Block houses from Sarissa Precision.  These come in a range of sizes and styles that are vaguely Georgian/Victorian, which works well for a late 19th/early 20th century city terrain.  The buildings fit together very simply, with window detailing on separate panels that fit inside the walls similar to the Warbases buildings.  These, however, have the window panes fully cut out, which really showcases the sort of detailing possible in this medium.  The buildings all come with an integral 40mm pavement area out front, etched in a paving stone pattern, but Sarissa can supply the buildings without the pavement on request.  They are also currently working on separate pavement pieces, which will let you expand pavements around the side of the buildings and around models from other manufacturers.  One other advantage with these buildings is that they are modular - you can buy extra floors to turn each building into a three, four or five storey building.  Pricewise they're a little more expensive than the Warbases buildings, but that's more than made up for what I think is a greater level of detail.
One 6"x4" with a quick textured spray job, one 8"x6" residence untouched.

I picked up one of the smaller buildings initially (roughly 6"x4"), assembled it and painted it mainly with a stone-textured spray paint.  The result looks quite good for minimal effort, as the dark etching of the stonework pattern still shows through the paintwork.  I'm going to experiment on another building with flat, non-textured paint, then probably paint the rest of the buildings using a mixture of the two techniques.

Finally (phew!), Ziterdes is a German company producing wargames terrain in a mixture of resin and a hard grey foam material.  Included in their range are four Victorian-style city buildings - a bank, a townhouse, an apartment building and an abandoned factory.  Apart from the factory, they come as individual floors which can be bought separately, like the Sarissa buildings, allowing you to build up multi-storey towers.  The interiors of these floors are also textured (again apart from the factory) lacking only internal walls to create an interior room layout.  While it's true that these buildings were the most expensive per-model that I've picked up for this project, there's no denying that you get a lot of building for your money.  50 Euro typically gets you a three-storey building that is half as big again as the largest of the Sarissa buildings.
Straight out of the box.  Usable, but a proper paintjob will be much nicer

The Ziterdes buildings come with a very rough undercoat that would let you get away with using these straight out of the bag, but there are several pictures of these buildings painted which helps to bring out the exquisite detailing cast into the walls and windows.  That's what I'm planning to try, as soon as I pluck up the courage.

So those are the  buildings I've been tinkering with during any free time over the last  two weeks.  Of them all, I'd have to say my favourites are the Sarissa Precision laser-cut MDF City Block buildings.  They're relatively cheap, easy to assemble and paint up well.  I only wish they produced more buildings in a British red-brick style - they have a small selection of 28mm World War II buildings that would almost fit the bill, but their styling is just too continental to work for the streets of London or Liverpool.  The Ziterdes foam buildings are spectacular, but look like they're going to require a lot of careful painting to get the most out of them.  I'm quite happy with the idea of vac-formed plastic terrain having built Amera's church, but they don't have many buildings that I would consider appropriate for this project.  Finally PMC buildings are attractive and come pre-painted and virtually table-ready for a very reasonable price.  If somehow I ever found myself needing more buildings for this cityscape, Sarissa and PMC would be my first port of call.

That's it for the buildings project.  Next up will be an update on the Landship yard and a push to get more resin ready for the tabletop.


  1. I don't know much about this but you'd think there'd be generic building sheets or something,.. you know like a sheet of brick wall, stone wall, or tiled roof etc.

    OK you still have the scale issue but with a bunch of textured sheets and some simple building patterns and of course time and patience you could build something close.

    Just sounds like you're paying a lot for a bunch of obstacles and terrain miscellany tis all! But I can see that if you're putting a lot of effort into your figures then you want other stuff to look good too (hence the hats).

    Dunno, it just feels wrong to me to buy something incidental that you could build instead. Maybe not as polished at first but perhaps watch a few Postman Pat videos to see what can be done with card and polyfiller.

    Does anybody airbrush?

    Other than that I was really interested to see you comparisons on what sorts of things are available. I suppose it gets like those model railway fans who pay loads of cash for those 00 models. Yeah icecream vans are cool!

  2. Individual texture sheets are available, both flat (including printable) brick paper and moulded plastic sheeting (which comes in a little bit pricier) We're already using printable brick paper as the basis for the Victorian slum terrace project here ->

    But with the slow progress on that, I decided to trade off time vs money for the rest of the city terrain, hence the splurge documented above.

  3. That brick paper looks pretty good - you got access to a colour laser printer?

    I guess it's always a trade-off of time vs money vs quality. (The age old triangle)

    Would be interested to see what construction method you're using and whether I could throw a few helpful ideas into the mix. Do you use balsa for framework, and what sort of glue do you use?