Sunday, 16 February 2020

Reflection No 1: Getting in Sync

I may yet have some 'rants' to deliver, but the idea of a rant is too  aggressive for many of my thoughts, so I'm pitching this as a 'reflection'.

Like most wargamers, I'm a serial obsessionalist. I'm happiest when concentrating on one thing and totally submerging myself in it, but then I'm also easily bored and likely to flit to something else! Finding the right balance is a perpetual challenge.

This year I've planned for a limited set of areas and a close integration between what I'm painting and what I'm playing. As I'm basing-before-painting and using-while-painting I'm well placed to do this. (I'm committed to adding more paint before an army is used again so I have to slip the figures on and off painting bases, but that's no great burden.)

I typically play two games a month so the idea is to spend the preceding fortnight working on the armies I intend to use in my next game. Devotion to theme doesn't stop at modelling or swatting up on rules, but may extend to what I read or watch or listen to.This will not only 'feel right' but give me a big incentive actually to do some painting. At the moment I'm focusing on my 1798 figures and the strategy is working.

This approach is much better than the one that involves months of painting before you can play a game with the inevitable loss of interest before an army is finished. I have the semi-painted lead mountain to prove it.

It's a little unusual to write about process rather than models or games, but it's actually fundamental to the whole pursuit.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Chain of Command: My 1944 Ardennes Platoons and Supports

These are my 28mm 1944 Ardennes Campaign German Volksgrenadier and US Army platoons for Chain of Command.

Volksgrenadiers and Supports.
The Volksgrenadier platoon consists of two Sturm (Assault Rifle) and one LMG squad. The Sturm squads have a Junior Leader and comprise a single Team. The LMG squad has a Junior Leader and two teams, one with an additional riflemen.

There is also an HQ team of three men armed with KARs and Rifle-Grenades. At this late stage of the war, following losses on the Eastern Front, there is only one Senior Leader but another can be purchased from the Supports List and looks like a must.

Other supports shown in the photo include a Pak 40 anti-tank gun (centre), a tripod-mounted HMG, Panzerschreck teams, and snipers. I also have a Black Tree Infantry Gun on order, but am having difficulties getting a response from the company.

The models are all metal apart from the Pak 40 which is a resin piece from Blitzkrieg Miniatures.

US Army and Supports.
The US platoon has three Rifle Squads. Each squad has a Junior Leader (square base), a Rifle Team and two BAR teams. The second BAR is actually a 1-point Support upgrade. I will probably field each Squad as two teams with a BAR in each.

The figures with oblong bases are Senior Leaders. To their right is a Bazooka Team. The Supports include an anti-tank gun, mortar, snipers, a 32mm Browning (needs some additional figures), some more Bazooka Teams and Medical Orderlies. I don't know how many of these extras I'll atually need. They're just the figures I bought twelve years ago.

The original figures were Artisan and Bolt Action but I've recently added a few Empress Miniatures and others. Crewed weapons in CoC typically require 4-5 crew which is more than manufactureres usually supply. I'm therefore always on the lookout for suitable extras, e.g. ammo carriers.

1/50 scale Corgi diecasts. At least I don't have to paint them.
Using 1/50 (or 1/48) vehicles instead of 1/56 vehicles is controversial. Readers will note that the figures are mounted on rather high bases. This is all to do with the AFVs, an issue I’ll be addressing in another post.

Friday, 7 February 2020

My 1798 Irish Rebellion companies for 'Rebels and Patriots'

These are my 28mm 1798 Irish Rebellion companies for Rebels and Patriots. I’ve been buying them from North Star using my monthly Wargames Illustrated discount. All the figures are Trent Miniatures. They have great character and required only minimal cleaning up.

United Irishmen. The units are a mixture of pikemen and gunmen. The skirmishers (bottom left) are Shelmaliers. The command figures (bottom centre) will be put into one of the pike units. The remaining figures (bottom right) are spares for different configurations.

There are no silly cast pikes but no open hands either, so the hands had to be drilled. I started with a pin vice but the metal was quite hard so I dug out my old modelling drill and upgraded the power unit from 9v to 12v.

It’s some time since I’ve used this so I had to decide on technique:

1. Start the hole with a pin vice hand drill which is more controllable than the electric drill. Once the hole is started you can get a purchase with the latter. If going through two hands, start each one with the pin vice.

2. Don’t just drill. It will jam. Keep pulling it out and pushing it back in again. This doesn't seem to happen with the pin vice.

3. Avoid letting the drill slip under a finger nail - it's uncomfortable and may cause delay.

The figures came with sharp wire pikes. I shortened these to 60mm to represent Irish half-pikes.

Irish Militia etc comprising two units of Line Infantry (centre row), Grenadiers (bottom left),  Light Infantry (bottom right), Yeoman Cavalry (at the back) and Artillery. The mounted Captain (next to the gun) replaces an ordinary figure in whichever unit he is put with.

The Crown troops required a lot less work. Many of the Militia (and Rebels) came with separate heads. This provides good variation for the Rebels but less so for the Militia. The Militia heads can be angled a little differently, but only up to a point.

Friday, 31 January 2020

Thirty Years War 6mm progress 5: drybrushing the bases

I had to patch the basic dark brown coat twice as a result of my mistake in using a white gesso undercoat instead of a black one. I am repeating this as a penance and to sear it into my brain for next time. White undercoats are appropriate for figures that are going to be painted with washes but not for block painting.

The next step was to dry-brush the ground, avoiding the figures as far as possible. The recipe - in fact the whole base-before-painting approach - came originally from Nik Harwood and is executed with successive applications of the following Citadel colours: (1) Mournfang Brown (formerly Calthan Brown), (2) Zamesi Desert (formerly Bubonic Brown), and (3) Ushabti Bone (formerly Bleached Bone).

The Mournfang Brown barely shows but it’s probably important in achieving the overall effect. Owing to the closeness of the figures I'm applying the dry brushing only to the outer rim of these figure blocks.
I assume these names mean something in the Games Workshop universe. I was helped in tracing the name changes by this very useful colour chart.

The Zamesi Desert is a strong mustard colour up close but after applying it the bases then look sort of greenish from a distance.
Using four colours just for the ground may seem excessive but the ground is going to be the most important area after the dark brown shadow between the ranks of figures. Lightening the ground makes a major contribution towards lightening the whole figure block.

Finally, the Ushabti Bone lightens the overall effect. The Croat Light Cavalry, the Dragoons (above), the Cannons and the Commanders are looser and require some paint between the figures.
With this amount of dry brushing to do I'm not being particularly careful. I'll be adding patches of 2mm Static Grass later in the process and this will cover any unsightly 'splodges'.

With this stage done I think the bases are already beginning to suggest how economical and effective this ultra-minimal approach is going to be.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

28mm Abyssinians: just looking (for now)

Empress Miniatures Ethiopians
I'm grateful to the A Grab Bag Of Games blog for refreshing my interest in fielding a 19thC Abyssinian/Ethiopian Army for The Men Who Would Be Kings. The Egyptian-Ethiopian War of  1874-1876 is just the sort of thing to appeal to my taste for the obscure. As I already have a Colonial Egyptian army, an Abyssinian force would be an obvious extension.

Empress Miniatures do a range of Ethiopians for the 1930s but the irregular figures should be perfectly useable for the later part of the Egyptian-Ethiopian War following the Ethiopians’ capture of Remington rifles from the Egyptians at the Battle of Gundet in 1875.

Additional figures are available from Askari Miniatures in the USA but postage to the UK is incredibly steep. Some US companies just don't seem able to sort out reasonable international postal rates, though others clearly have no such problems.

Friday, 17 January 2020

Chain of Command links and resources

TFL official Chain of
Command game aid bundle.
Chain of Command was published by Too Fat Lardies back in 2013 but it's a new game for me. I have the rules and recently bought some markers, and I already had some figures, AFVs and Ardennes-specific scenery dating from a decade ago when I was first planning to do a platoon-level WW2 skirmish game.

I'm currently at the investigative and planning stage which is in itself quite fun. Here are some of the resources I've been looking at.

TFL LINKS

Too Fat Lardies website
Chain of Command shop items
CoC board on the TFL Forum
TFL Resources and Downloads - QRS, Errata & FAQ, Official CoCulator (points system)
Patrol phase tactics
Tactical Primer
Big Chain of Command
Game Aid Downloads

SOME OTHER USEFUL LINKS

CoC review (Anatoli’s Game Room)
CoC review (Tabletop Stories)
Getting Started with Chain of Command (The Tactical Painter)
Game Markers (The Tactical Painter)
Revised Force Ratings (Tiny Hordes)
The Consolidated Arsenal (Tiny Hordes)
Campaigns for Chain of Command (Community made)
Easy mistakes to avoid (Trouble At T'Mill)
Beginners Tips (Wargaming ASP)
Game example (JJ’s Wargames blog)
Various CoC posts (Vis Lardica)
CoC posts (Tom’s Toy Soldiers)
Charlie Foxtrot Models - Particularly apposite range of 28mm buildings for North-West Europe

VIDEOS

As in other areas of life, we now enjoy the benefit of video support. This is the first time I’ve used videos to introduce myself to and learn a new game. These aren't for everyone but I think they give you a really good idea of what a game is like to play.

3 TFL Preview videos
CoC author Richard Clarke demonstrating the rules:
Action on the Orne
Into the Reich
Lard TV - Too Fat Lardies channel (not all CoC)

16 Videos linked from Boardgame Geek
Itinerant Hobbyist's Youtube Playlist

And there's lots of other filmed CoC games notably on these YouTube channels:

OnTableTop (formerly Beasts of War)
Tabletop CP
Check Your Leader TV

This is just my personal voyage of discovery. Apologies to any bloggers and video-bloggers that have been overlooked.

Friday, 10 January 2020

Rant No 2: Wargame blogging

Typical life and death of a new post.
Some blog posts enjoy long-term interest. In the main, however, I find that interest in new posts peaks and dies within three days or less.

I’m guessing that we wargame bloggers enjoy a lot of our traffic from each other’s blog rolls. My blog roll is quite long but defaults to the first 25, the most that Blogger allows me to show. I’ve just checked my blog roll as I write. The 25th item is two days old and the other 24 are only one day old. Anything older does not appear unless you elect to ‘Show All’.

I remember a time when posts shown were much older, but as new interests have arisen I've added new blogs, thus increasing competition between them. Now they fight for daylight before falling off the bottom of the list. That  presumes that visitors even get to the bottom of the list. In so far as fellow bloggers enjoy traffic diverted from this blog, they only enjoy it for 24 hours and I guess this is largely reciprocated.

This begs questions about the ideal frequency of publication. Every 3 days? Every day? Every hour? That is a slippery slope leading to obsession and is to be resisted. Unless I have something pressing to say, I'm now inclined to revert to a roughly weekly frequency.
All time favourites.

Some posts achieve longevity. Google moves in mysterious ways, but in so far as you can explain the popularity of a post it's probably because it's a relatively rare source of reference or it offers something of ongoing practical use.

In contrast to other forms of social media like Twitter or Facebook, blog posts are typically long and considered, can take considerable time to write and compare very favourably with articles in printed media. This is certainly exemplified by blogs like Norm’s Battlefields and Warriors  or Steven Thomas’s Balagan. My own posts are much more economical/superficial but they still take quite a long time to write, illustrate and arrange. It just seems a pity that so much effort results in something which generally enjoys only a very ephemeral life.

I guess most wargame bloggers are pretty ‘old school’ and take pride in a process which is little different to traditional print media publishing. But I also know that I'm not the only blogger to entertain doubts.

I don't personally do Facebook but I know people who do. Post an interesting or appealing photo straight from your smartphone and you immediately receive a barage of 'Likes' and pithy comments. I fear that I'm beginning to sound narcissistic but I do know that this sort of response provides validation and is psychologically much more rewarding than the feeling that you are publishing into a void.

Where is all this leading? Well, I'm not planning to give up just yet or to make any radical changes, but I am seriously wondering whether from an objective point of view an essentially print-media process with a large overhead in time and effort is a good match for a contemporary Internet audience.

I have some more rants to make. Otherwise I will try to create posts which have more content of lasting value.
Audience growth since inception. January
2020 is incomplete, hence the cliff-face dip.

All of this begs the question of why we blog at all. If I have a few daytime hours at home without fear of interruption, I'm more likely to spend my time painting. Blog posts usually start life on my smartphone (a Galaxy Note with stylus) during train journeys, in any waiting situation, or in any other odd pocket of time, and are finished on a PC mostly during sleepless nights (as now).

Blogger is theoretically straightforward but positioning pictures and controlling formatting can be annoyingly tricky. Fortunately I have a background in web creation and can get under the bonnet to adjust the HTML. No such problems with Facebook.

Given this working practice, it doesn't really compete with other activities, but if I didn't do the blog I could be using the time to study wargame rules or to pursue other interests.

But I still haven't explained why I do it. Generally it's to remain connected with something that fascinates me and would engage my thoughts in any event. In particular I get the most reward from feedback about ideas I'm floating, e.g. what basing to adopt for a particular game or how to paint something.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

2020 Projects

It's more fun to look ahead than look back, and I thus take much more pleasure in outlining my plans for 2020 than reviewing what happened in 2019. Once again I'll be brief and to the point. This year I want to concentrate on three areas and these are going to be my personal priority for both painting and gaming. Because this spread is so much more focused than in the recent years, I feel emboldened to use words like 'projects' and 'plans' rather than just 'interests'.

1. Rampant games

Rampant games remain central to my gaming preference, especially as new armies are ready to be put on the table (if only based and undercoated).

Warbands/companies I’m currently working on include:
  • 28mm Border Reivers, and Buccaneers and Spanish, for The Pikeman’s Lament.
  • 28mm 1798 Irish Rebels and Militia for Rebels and Patriots.
  • 28mm Elf, Troll (Orc), Goblin, Halfling, Nordic Bronze Age and Aegean Bronze Age warbands for Dragon Rampant.
There are also some bits and pieces I'm adding to historical armies to create Men of the North and Arthurian Romance Dragon Rampant warbands. I also have a force of 28mm Feudals which I will be diverting to DR, but I'm still trying to think of magical elements to add that would be in character. Even Fantasy needs to be authentic!

Besides those I also have Dark Age and Late Medieval Armies for Lion Rampant, AWI and ACW armies for Rebels and Patriots and British, Zulu, Afghan and Egyptian armies for The Men Who Would Be Kings. Rampant games are also popular with other club members including Chris who has French and Indian Wars for RAP, Ian who has British and Mahdists and Bernard who has Boxer Rebellion for TMWWBK, and Simon who is working on Wars of the Roses in 10mm for LR.

2. Tilly’s Very Bad Day

I’ve been helping to proof-read Steven Thomas's Tilly's Very Bad Day rules as they are being developed, but I really want to start playing them myself.

My 6mm Thirty Years War armies are still being painted but I based them first precisely so I could put them on the table straight away.

As with other 'base-before-painting' and 'play-while-painting' projects, I promise to do more painting before reusing them in a game.

A new version of the rules is imminent so as soon as that is published and I have digested it I'll be attempting to arrange a game.

3. Chain of Command (CoC)

I planned to get into Chain of Command in 2018 but never got round to it.

I have the rules and markers and a collection of 28mm US and German Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge) figures which are based and undercoated. I also have some ready-painted diecast AFVs and some scenery.

I started the Ardennes project at the beginning of 2008, before CoC was published. It's frightening how much time has passed!

Like Crossfire, CoC is highly innovative, specifically in the pre-combat patrol sequence and the way in which forces pop-up at jump-off points. It may take some grasping but I think it's going to be fun.

I'm currently studying the rules, watching online videos, sorting out figures and planning additional scenery. More anon.

Friday, 27 December 2019

2019 Roundup

I'll keep it brief and to the point. I set out to do more painting and gaming this year. I didn't achieve as much as I hoped, but I did add substantially to my collection of armies and most of these are either fully-painted purchases from eBay or at least based and undercoated (or soon will be) and thus close to being usable according to my own heretical ethos of what is acceptable.

Most-played game of 2019
I played 20 games in 2019 - 9 Rampant games (4 The Men Who Would be Kings, 3 Rebels and Patriots, 1 Lion Rampant and 1 Dragon Rampant), 2 Dux Bellorum, 1 Hammerin' Iron, 1 Black Seas, 4 Commands and Colors and 3 other board games.

Since my six-monthly review in July I've added the following forces:
  • 28mm Halfling army for Dragon Rampant.
  • 28mm Nordic Bronze Age army for Dragon/Lion Rampant.
  • 28mm Aegean Bronze Age army for Dragon/Lion Rampant.
These have been organised, cleaned up, assembled and based. Other new armies, in various stages of completion, include:
  • 28mm 1798 Irish Rebellion figures for Rebels and Patriots. These have been accumulating gradually.  I recently received the last batch so these will be cleaned up, assembled and based early in the new year.
  • 28mm Buccaneer and Spanish figures for The Pikeman’s Lament. I need some reinforcements for the Spanish and some supernumeries but the collecting phase is in sight of completion.
  • 6mm Thirty Years War armies for Tilly’s Very Bad Day. These are based and are currently being painted.
  • 1/700 Black Seas (Napoleonic naval) starter set. These are still in the box and very much on the back-burner.
  • Commands and Colors Medieval. Stickered and used.
One thing that's helped me stay productive is keeping a very brief diary of what I do. At the end of each month I tot up the days when I did at least something. This gives me a sense of achievement and highlights any lapses without feeling oppressive.

Although it’s not been an outstanding year for gaming and painting I made over 60 posts to this blog, partly as a result of illness and post-op indisposition. I'm now much recovered.