Friday 30 December 2011

Instant Mold

I have come across some interesting discussion and reviews of a product called Instant Mold, a silicone like moulding product that softens when heated and does not stick to modelling putty, allowing items to be cast in Green Stuff and similar.

This video shows it better than I can describe but I would caution against his modelling knife using skills:

Roebeast has a more in depth assessment of the product on his blog here which shows some of the uses he has put it to which certainly shows applications of the product off better than the video.

Whilst Instant Mold is available from CMON there is an equivalent product available at half the price (I have read that it is the same product but can't confirm); Oyumaru Instant Mold Moulding Compound, available in the UK from Metal Clay Ltd for £4.95. At that price it has got to be worth giving it a shot as the potential uses seems limitless...

Thanks to Andrew Wood and Ian Rees for the heads up on this.

Monday 26 December 2011

The War Against The French

 When we think about fighting the French our thoughts usually turn to Agincourt, Trafalgar and Waterloo more so than Madagascar and Syria but Colin Smith's England's Last War Against France: Fighting Vichy 1940-42 about the largely forgotten war against Vichy France and the threat posed by her navy and colonial possessions is a fascinating read.

From a wargaming point of view the campaigns in Syria, Madagascar and French North Africa make compelling reading and a series of hard fought battles between Vichy colonial forces on the one hand and British Commonwealth and Americans on the other beg further research and tabletop recreation, after all it is not often you hear of Australian troops being forced to retreat in panic - and against the French to boot. Similarly the Americans who were badly beaten in Oran will probably disagree with the inane "cheese eating surrender monkeys" label the French have been branded with by the uneducated.

Whilst you can purchase 15mm Flames of War miniatures for the French in the Levant (Syria and Lebanon), 28mm is a bit more problematical with a dearth of suitable figures. Foundry's old Darkest Africa Foreign Legion pack and Artizan's WW2 Legion may be suitable for troops with Adrian helmet head swaps but the Bolt Action and Crusader 1940 ranges less so with their troops in greatcoats (I know the French wore greatcoats in the Levant but they would look very odd to Commonwealth troops in shorts...).

I've had a growing interesting in the over-looked French involvement in WW2 and given the Syrian campaign featured the same Commonwealth troops who had previously fought against the Italians in east Africa and I am tempted towards some section to platoon level 28mm skirmish gaming for East Africa and the Levant especially if I can find some good sources for 28mm WW2 Indian Army troops (Pulp are the only ones I know of).

Back to the book, even if you don't fancy starting a new period, it is an excellent read and a good balance with regards to the politics and military with excellent use of personal accounts of fascinating battles most of us are not aware of.

Sunday 25 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Hope you all were on Santa's nice list and you, your family and friends have a peaceful festive period.

The miniature is the excellent Santa Hunter from Scibor Miniatures and was quite therapeutic to do some painting yesterday...

Saturday 24 December 2011

My Dad

My dad passed away on Wednesday morning. He'd been seriously ill for a number of years now having being diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease, a particularly nasty Alzheimer's variant as well as having Bowel Cancer in recent months. Whilst it wasn't a surprise it was still a shock and I'm a bit all over the place. I decided rather than sit around today to pick up a paintbrush and paint something. Whilst my Dad wasn't a wargamer he was a very good artist and painter so it helped to do something he encouraged me in.

It's funny what memories come flooding back, some long forgotten like eating smoked yellow fish on Fridays (which I haven't done since I was knee high...), the no TV on Christmas Day rule and also, from a wargaming point of view, the regular presents of Roco Minitanks be bought me from Trapnall's model shop in Weston-super-Mare.

It has also brought to the forefront the need to enjoy what we have and not put things off until tomorrow so my only New Year project as such will be geared to making an effort to play more games with Saul in 2012...

Tuesday 13 December 2011

Kindle-mass Comes Early

Work, domestic concerns and a resumption of editorial duties for the SFSFW's Ragnarok have resulted my fingers not touching a paintbrush for over a month now which is a lamentable state of affairs and one I intend to correct later this week. In the meantime SWMBO gave me a £15 Tesco clubcard voucher that was valid on one day only last week so I toddled down Tesco Homeplus to have a look at the iPads which I did but am still undecided on a whole host of issues, 3G or Wi-Fi? 16GB or 64GB? Even white or black? (honestly, white MacBook, black iPod - doesn't help!).

Anyway feeling £15 off something electronic was too good a voucher to waste I decided to treat myself to the bottom of the range 4th generation Kindle working on the basis that whilst some people think they are either/or devices I regard them as totally diverse concepts. So £74 lighter I now own a Kindle  that I am finding to be a wonderful little device and encouraging me to read more non-fiction than I have for a while.

The main draw is storage. I've just picked up both Colin Smith's England's Last War Against France and Keith Jeffrey's MI6: The History of the Secret Intelligence Service 1909-1949 which would stretch the limited bookshelf space available (ok, being honest the non-existent available space there is a lot of double racking and piling on top going on here in Blease Towers...). That I can back them up and sync them on my MacBook (and smartphone if I had one), can annotate books and carry a library in a A5 piece of plastic is very attractive, so much I can considering a serious book cull and ebook purchase splurge).

Will I give up "real" books? No of course not, there is still 'something; about them and from a Kindle point of view they are really only good for text rather than pictures but there is a convenience factor that any serious reader cannot ignore (and for a wargamer down the club you can have your library with you to make sure your facts are correct when you are challenged!)

Sunday 4 December 2011

Zombies Throughout History Revisited

It seems great minds think alike. Not long after my post about Zombies in the American War of Independence AB One Games have announced Patriots & Loyalists & Zombies coming in 2012 - cool...

Thursday 24 November 2011

A Little Light Reading (Rediscovered)...

The campaign to rescue the wargames room has been halted as SWMBO insisted on a mini-campaign to tidy up the study with one of the areas of spousal concern being some boxes of magazines buried under the desk! By and large this was my collection of Military Modelling magazine from 1978 to sometime at the end of the eighties but scattered amongst the Military Modelling's, Classic Rock magazines and copies of SFX were a number of wargames magazines, many short lived and now defunct.

These range from recent efforts such as Caliver's Battlefields from the mid-nineties, through Practical Wargamer and Wargames World to 1970's old school journals such as Battle for Wargamers, Wargamer's Newsletter and Miniature Warfare and Model Soldiers, as well as some largely unheralded efforts like the mid-eighties Esprit De Corps.

There have been comments from SWMBO about "culling" which are sending shivers down my spine (I think she means the magazines not me!). I think I have made the "right noises" about reviewing and scanning articles but I am hoping the recent investment in a few plastic storage boxes plus the sacrifice of some old SFX and role-playing magazines that I have no interest in should see the threat recede for the time being...

On a related magazine note some good news on the Battlegames front in that it has been rescued any will continue to be published by the same company that produces Miniature Wargames.

Monday 21 November 2011

33 Days To Christmas...

If you are looking for present ideas for the SWMBO in your life, Debenhams offers this...

Thursday 17 November 2011

Perry Miniatures Gruppo Bande?

As my surfing for pictures of colonial units in WW2 expanded I had the brainwave of using other countries Google platforms so instead of or, I decided to try to find pictures of Italian Askari in WW2. This turned out to be quite a successful exercise and I came across some interesting material that was not being picked up by the English language sites (including this website of one Italian gamer with photos of his forces for the Battle of Gallabat).

I also came across this wonderful full colour cover of an edition of La Domencia del Corriere featuring an attack by Italian colonial forces on a British armoured column. What interested me was that alongside the Askari are some native troops in Dervish style costume. It turns out that alongside their European forces and trained native Askari, the Italians also employed irregular forces called Bande (literally bands). It even appears that whilst not accurate the picture is inspired by a real life attack of the Gruppo Bande Amhara on a British armoured coloumn near Cherù in Ethiopia under the command of Lieutenant Amedeo Guillet (who was also prominent in the Italian Guerilla War fought in Ethiopia from 1941 to 43).

Whilst the Bande appear to differ in look from unit to unit, some wearing Italian army tunics others traditional Nile Arab dress, it occurred to me that with minimal change a small unit could be raised cheaply from a box of Perry plastic Madhists with other figures possibly being used for a range of projects from Greek Peltasts to LOTR Abrakhan Guard. I must confess I am somewhat tempted and finding researching the East Africa campaign fascinating...

Monday 14 November 2011

Forgotten Heroes?

Jonana Mungai, King's African Rifles, Burma
With matters domestic curtailing any wargames oriented activity I've been browsing the internet for 28mm Early War WW2 figures which is throwing up surprising gaps bearing in mind you are supposed to be able to buy any figure you want in any scale for any war (I can't find 28mm WW2 Dutch, Hungarians and Norwegians for starters).

For some reason as google-fuing often does I ended up reading some really interesting online articles on the East African campaign in 1941 (did you know the Congolese Force Publique fought against the Italians? No, neither did I...). What I found increasingly frustrating though was how little could be found on colonial units of both sides that fought in the campaign, especially when it came to photographs of these troops. Both the British and Italians employed African troops in this campaign but it is really hard to find much in the way of photographic evidence, especially of the Italian Askaris.

However the growing theme I found was how little respect there is for the colonial troops of WW2 and their contribution in the various theatres of the war. Since 'Empire' has become a dirty word it seems that the historic colonisers rarely celebrate the veterans of ex-colonies and in the independent countries the fact they fought in  the "white man's war" (a direct quote off one Kenyan website about Burma) means their sacrifice gets ignored there (especially in those countries who did not become independent until post-WW2).

King's African Rifles, East Africa, 1941
Whatever the rights and wrongs of colonialism it cannot be right that these brave soldiers are airbrushed out of history just because we are supposed to be ashamed of our Imperial heritage and ex-colonies feel that their pre-independence history is one were resistance to the Imperial power is good and taking the salt was akin to collaboration ("white man slave soldiers" is a common, and in my view derogatory, phase used about soldiers like the King's African Rifles).

So what has this to do with wargaming? Not a great deal I suspect, however I am now determined that I will make some effort over the next twelve months to raise some small units of WW2 colonial troops such as the KAR and Burmese Naga as a small reminder of those that lost their lives in WW2 fighting for the allied cause were not all of European heritage. If their homelands feel they cannot recognise their contribution in the war against the Axis, there is no reason why we should not, even if only on the tabletop.

Friday 11 November 2011

Lest We Forget...

As I am sure you all know today is the 93rd Armistice Day when we remember the sacrifice of our armed forces. This year holds a bit more significance for me following my visit to the battlefields of the Somme and my son-in-law's (thankfully safe) return from active service off the coast of Libya where his ship came under fire. The BBC has been running a programme this week after Breakfast remembering servicemen and women who have served from 1914 onwards. It was quite sobering to hear that at least one British serviceman has been killed on active service every year save one since the end of World War Two. If you have missed it you can catch up with it on iPlayer.

The picture above is one I took of Bristol's Own Cross, a wooden cross located at the crossroads of the Rue de Bazentin and the Ruelle Cambray on the west edget of Longueval village. It is dedicated to the officers and soldiers of the 12th Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment, known as “Bristols Own”, who died in the battles of July to September 1916 at Longueval, Guillemont and Morval.

Monday 7 November 2011

Zombies Throughout History: The American War of Independence

Following on from my Pike & Shot & Zombies post Jean-Louis commented on the possibility of extending the rules into the C18th. A few years ago I did have a stab at this and wrote up an article for Ragnarok entitled The Battle of Sleepy Hollow (the Revenge of Ichabod Crane - Necromancer), a mini-campaign using WHFB postulating the return of Crane to Sleepy Hollow with an army of AWI zombies.

As concepts go I think it is one with a lot of potential and given the planned forthcoming release of American War of Independence plastics from Perry Miniatures sometime in 2012, one I will probably return to...

Sunday 6 November 2011

Zombies Throughout History: The Thirty Years War

A couple of unconnected incidents over the last few days appear to be leading me down the path of unintended consequences into playing a new game.

First off, in a continuing attempt to rescue the games room (the rather frightening plastic mountain is now boxed for transfer to the attic) I discovered a box of GW Zombies. I have no idea why I bought them as my only flirtation with WHFB Undead is a small unpainted Tomb Kings army, but I have 20 plastic zombies with no army to attach them to.

I didn't give this much thought until Hallowe'en when Wargame Vault had pumpkin logo trick or treat feature on their website whereby you tried to find ten pumkins on their webpages and by clicking would receive a trick (usually a link to something amusing on YouTube) or a treat (a free PDF product). I discovered three treats, one of which was Plague City, a supplement for Pike & Shot & Zombies, a C17th post-apocalyptic zombie game.

Browsing through Plague City I was quite taken with the concept and the small numbers of miniatures needed, about half a dozen survivors and two to three times as many zombies and so availed myself of both the main ruleset and Rotting Renaissance Regiments, a supplement introducing zombies derived from military units (a really good excuse to chop up some Warlord ECW figures and add Mantic zombie bits!).

It make be a little while before I sit down to stick my zombies together and whilst I have a few old Foundry ECW somewhere they are probably out of scale with the zombies and I would need to get a handful of Warlord or TAG, this is likely to prove a fun diversion from some of the larger projects I seem to have planned...

Saturday 5 November 2011

Rally 'Round Battlegames!

Many of you will by now have heard the announcement that wargames magazine Battlegames will no longer be able to be produced in its current printed format. Battlegames was a great magazine with echoes of Practical Wargamer and Battle, I especially liked the inclusion of F/SF as "just another period" (the way it should be).

It may be that editor and publisher Henry Hyde is able to keep the magazine going as a PDF project, I certainly hope so, but what concerned me was his comments in the statement as follows, "the blunt fact is that I should have recognised the writing on the wall sooner and am now in considerable financial difficulty as a result. I have been operating as a one-man-band in a precarious financial position from the outset, with no fall-back position, and I have paid the price. It is now imperative that I resume my former career in graphic and web design for the time being, as well as my new one in writing, in order to prevent complete financial meltdown."

You may have seen Henry recently raised over £10,000 for the Combat Stress charity walking from Battle to Lewes Castle (on an unseasonably hot day when temperatures hit 28c!) and it doesn't seem right to me that someone who does something like this should not have the support of the wargaming community in his hour of need...

If you have not bought any copies of Battlegames you can buy some back issues here. Alternatively (and I think this is a fantastic bargain) for just £40.50 you can download issues 1 to 24 in PDF format here (and get a free PDF of Tabletop Teasers Volume One as well).

I'm sure any purchase, no matter how small,  will be of great personal help to Henry and I encourage you all to visit the Battlegames website and buy something, you won't regret it, the only regret will be if this is the end of Battlegames...

Monday 31 October 2011

Dwarf Stretcher Party

Back in my schooldays 1/300th WW2 and Warhammer Fantasy Battle 2nd edition were pretty much all I played wargames wise. With my regular opponent Simon collecting Dwarves, I opted for the Citadel Fantasy Tribe Gnolls and Orcs and never picked up any of the Fantasy Tribe Dwarves, despite liking a number of the figures. One that I remember fondly is  FTD14 Dwarf Stretcher Party which comprised of two dwarves carrying a wounded comrade on a stretcher made of a couple of shields balanced on two wooden poles.

Thirty odd years later and waiting for the metallics on the Athenians to dry thoroughly I decided to try and convert a homage to FTD14 using some odd plastic Dwarves from GW's more recent releases...

Whilst not perfect I am quite pleased with how this has turned out even if it has no practical use on the tabletop!

Thursday 27 October 2011

Tonight We Dine In Hades...

My lingering Manthrax followed by stints as unpaid taxi driver and roadie for Saul has resulted in minimal progress on matters wargaming, indeed I have only managed to paint some flesh on some Mexicans and bronze on some hoplites in the last fortnight. :-(

However Wargames Illustrated 289 arrived and it is a Peloponnesian War special with a series of useful articles in the magazine and some more online which I have downloaded as PDF's. This has all been very inspiring so I intend to focus my efforts on the remaining elements of the Athenian army over the next few weeks.

One fly in the ointment was the disappearance of Immortal Miniatures. Announcements of a relaunched metal range to support the plastic hoplites have seen months pass without any news so I decided that my plan to use only Immortal figures needed amending.

Consequently I have been active on eBay and managed to pick up some Foundry heavy cavalry and skirmishers at a good saving on the RRP. This should allow me to finish off the Athenians and hopefully by the time I start the Spartans, Immortal will be back up and running as I really like their miniatures...

(photo Thessalian light cavalry from Immortal Miniatures)

Wednesday 19 October 2011

The Battle Of Marathon Re-enactment 2011

A video of the recent re-enactment celebrating the 2500th anniversary of the Battle of Marathon has been uploaded on YouTube. Whilst somewhat light on numbers it is great to see the amount of effort the re-enactors have put into keeping history alive (I was intrigued to see the only hoplite with an 'arrow curtain' had fixed it to the inside of his shield not the outside as seen on wargames figures...)

Monday 17 October 2011

Liquid Green Stuff

A work trip to Budapest which turned my man flu into fully blown manthrax somewhat limited any wargaming related activity over the last week but I did manage to give GW's latest product - Liquid Green Stuff - a quick spin and think it could be a jolly useful addition to any wargamers set up.

I guess the product is in response to the issues GW appear to be having with their Finecast resin and the small holes that can occur in the process and are really hard to fill using conventional materials like Green Stuff and Milliput.

Liquid Green Stuff is a very viscous liquid you literally paint onto fine cracks and small holes and seems to work very well. I've just tried it on the mould lines on my Maximilian War Mexicans which whilst not being very pronounced are distinct enough to show if untreated but light enough that they would show up when drybrushing or being dipped, especially on the sombreros. I would normally have filed them but this would have required a lot of effort and care, here I just painted the stuff on in minutes...

It's water soluble so brushes clean up easily and you can thing it for very fine lines and smoothness of finish. All in all, a useful product with lots of potential uses and well worth picking up.

Friday 7 October 2011

Légendes Du Le Vieil Ouest

Rummaging through my drawers(!) I came across a small pile of unpainted Foundry miniatures that I'd received as a present from SWMBO many moons ago. The miniatures had an interesting history as they were originally sculpted by Mike Owen as part of a training exercise when he started at Foundry and not intended for production, however, they were so good Foundry made them available for a limited time despite them not being (IIRC) to "Foundry standard" (or more accurately Foundry style, ie. they oozed character!). The set was based on the legendary Battle of Camarón during the Maximilian Affair and comprised of about 30 Mexicans and 30 French Foreign Legionnaires.

As with many things I hadn't done anything beyond basing the miniatures up and I had been pondering, given the nature of the Mexican costumes in particular, dipping them along with some Indian Mutiny figures one day in the future...

Thought hadn't gone much beyond this until the Warhammer Historical sale, when in a moment of inspiration/weakness, I decided to buy Legends of the Old West and the Alamo supplement to kick start this project. Given that I really like the LOTR core system LOTOW uses and the fact that I don't need any more miniatures (well not fttb...) which in themselves should be easy to paint, Camarón might well get moved up the lead mountain and onto the painting table soon...

Wednesday 5 October 2011

Over The Top To 1/2 Price Warhammer Historical Sale!

Heads up on a couple of things Warhammer Historical wise...

First off, possibly proving us doomsayers wrong, they have (finally) released Over the Top, the first supplement for the wonderful Great War rules, hurrah!

Secondly, Warhammer Historical are running a HALF PRICE SALE ON EVERYTHING, including the newly released Over The Top, Gladiator, Kampfgruppe Normandy, Waterloo, WAB2 etc.

Clearly big savings to be had, especially on the newer hardbacks. Kampfgruppe Normandy is now a tempting £24 and Gladiator just £10 (now coming off my Xmas list as I treat myself). All this on the day the Prime Minister was telling us to get out credit cards under control! :-)

Tuesday 4 October 2011

No Pasaran - The Battle of Cable Street

Today is the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Cable Street, a fact sadly being overlooked by most of the UK media.

The battle occurred in 1936 when 300,000 ordinary East Enders joined the local Jewish community and Communists to prevent 7,0000 members of the British Union of Fascists marching, in uniform, through Whitechapel and Limehouse.

They adopted the Spanish Civil War anti-Facist slogan of "No Pasaran" (They Shall Not Pass).

There were a series of clashes with both the fascists and 10,000 police (who attempted to clear the route) throughout the day, but in the end the BUF was forced to turn back and subsequent legislation banned political groups from wearing uniforms in public.

Both the Daily Mirror and Islington Tribune have interesting articles on the battle with eye witness accounts. This newsreel footage of the battle has an extremely pro-establishment commentary but shows the size of the crowd.

Thursday 29 September 2011

Colonial Wars Clearout At North Star

Just a brief note for those of you interested in things colonial, North Star are selling off David Bickley's three sets of colonial rules at £2.50 a set instead of the usual rrp of £11.50 to £14.00.

A Good Dusting covers the Sudan War 1884 – 1885 (and the Egyptian Revolt of 1882), Washing The Spears the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879 and The Devil's Wind the Indian Mutiny 1857-8.

I think the core system is basically the same from set to set, with player(s) taking the side of the British and the natives utlising an automatic generation system but at a price per set of less than a packet of sandwiches at Tesco's I thought it worth taking a punt on all three (I'd had my eye on the Mutiny ones for a while but, fortunately in light of the offer, forgot to pick them up at Colours).

Click here to order.

Warhammer 40K Lore In A Minute...

Monday 26 September 2011

Athenian Hoplites

It seems to have taken forever but I have now finished the first two hoplite phalanxes of my Athenian army for the Peloponnesian War project.

Both phalanxes are made from Immortal Miniatures excellent plastic hoplite boxes, mixing the original Ancient Greek Hoplite box with the Classical Greek set and painted using the Army Painter soft tone dip. The shield iconography are all decals from Immortal who provide a sheet with each box and an additional larger sheet which you can buy (but they gave away at Salute if you bought three boxes).

Personally I am unconvinced by the brightness of some wargamers hoplite armies with pure white linen and shining gold armour so I went for a slightly more grubby look relying on the horse plumes and shields for the splashes of colour. I also broke with tradition on the bases and used Vallejo Midstone as the base colour rather than GW Bestial Brown before drybrushing with Bleached Bone and adding some patches of flock to give the bases a more Aegean look...

Overall fairly pleased with them and keen to get the third phalanx done and the smaller veteran unit whilst the motivation is there.

Friday 23 September 2011

Hop(lite)ing Mad!!!!

The 'Curse of The Foggy Varnish' hit one of the phalanxes and despite urgent attempts to rectify the problem I ended up spending most of my lunchtime painting over the messed up brighter colours, spears and metalwork on the entire unit to bring them up to a vaguely useable standard. Why the varnish fogged I don't know as I used the same can on the separately painted shields just fifteen minutes earlier, must be a curse. The other unit varnished fine with a second can I had so it couldn't have been the weather or whatever. It is so arbitrary it is really frustrating...

Anyhow, they are coming along; movement trays made, just need to put the decals on the shields (tomorrow) and do the basing and that'll be a good chunk of the Athenians done. Also I've learnt (the hard way) some tricks on  how to go about painting them so hope the final main unit and smaller veteran unit won't take as long...

Monday 19 September 2011

Scupper Me For A Dreadfleet Else!

On International Talk Like A Pirate Day* it seems appropriate to ponder GW's latest limited edition offering Dreadfleet that they announced on Saturday. The internet is awash with fanboys and anti-fanboys waxing lyrical about the pros and cons many exhibiting amazing degrees of idiocy or prejudice or both, so as I had to pop into the office today I popped into my local GW to have a look at a copy in the flesh - except they haven't got one, and won't be getting one until release date on 1st October (and maybe not even then).
I then made the mistake of trying to talk to the GW Red Shirt who didn't know what Man O'War was let alone how the game mechanics in Dreadfleet compared (or even worked) or even the size of the models ("there's a picture on the website of a ship next to a figure"). After clearly failing on every level of competence he then asked if I wanted to reserve a copy of the game (quite...).
So I'm left pondering, £70 is a lot of money but the box does look chock full of useful stuff and whilst the miniatures appear to be very large compared to Man O'War models this might not be a crucial issue as it is fantasy and the largest 10cm ship is supposed to have a cathedral on the back so it is BIG. I was 75% convinced when I noticed Wayland were flogging it for £63 but adding the £6 postage on takes it back up to practically RRP. I considered the option of combining an order with David Manley which would have saved just under a fiver each on the RRP, but Wayland are now restricting it to one per customer as GW will only let them have 12 so that is a dead end savings wise...
So it's back to pondering and back to the hoplites who are now dipped and looking good, the shields were dipped tonight and are drying. Unfortunately I have to go to Bolton for a couple of days so no more work until I get back but hopefully a fair sea and clear skies at the weekend might see them finished before the end of the month!
Anyhow as it is  International Talk Like A Pirate Day* here is some Pirate Metal to set your cutlasses waving (ok the music is really crap on this one but you have got to check the stage costumes out, I couldn't stop laughing, the shark is brilliant!)

* it was Pretend To Be A Dinosaur Day on Saturday, missed a trick there for a good old dinosaur post... :-(

Saturday 17 September 2011

Alternate Realities

Whilst the two Athenian phalanxes are proceeding slowly but surely (the insides of the shields are currently drying) I have been catching up on my reading pile, a paper mountain that rivals the lead and plastic mountains!

Recent titles include the first two Oathsworn books by Robert Low, The Whale Road and  The Wolf Sea, the first of Jack Campbell's new Lost Fleet series, Dreadnaught, and I'm now immersed in the fourth of Alex Scarrow's young adult Time Rider series.

Alex Scarrow (brother of Simon) has wriiten four books in the series centred around a team of three young people rescued from the point of death by a mysterious stranger to work for a secret time agency (who they have no contact with), tasked with protecting the timeline from change and fixing time slips that occur.

For young adult books they are certainly well written and hugely enjoyable and the concepts Scarrow covers superb. The first in the series, Time Riders deals with changes that occur during WW2 but has two timeslips that will appeal to Weird War Two fans and post-apocalyptic zombie ones.

Book two, Day of the Predator, is a bit Jurassic Park but has enough going for it and develops well as it progresses.

The Doomsday Code, book three, concerns itself with the mysterious Voynich Manuscript and the dispute between Prince John and King Richard fresh back from the Crusades (and questions the historical picture of both).

The fourth one of the series, that I am currently reading, The Eternal War, is set during a timeslip that has resulted in an American Civil War that has lasted over one hundred years and is a wonderful C21st Steampunk world with giant zeppelins,  land ironclads, eugenic creations  etc. all great inspiration for VSF wargamers (some of the historical points of divergence are quite interesting as well).

Overall, despite being young adult books, if you are young at heart I think you'll enjoy these and they are great to share with any children in the family. All have tons of gaming ideas, especially for skirmish games, to boot.

Monday 12 September 2011

The Coffee Table Rules Dilemma

Colours 2011 was a bit of a wake up call for me, where the recent trend in wargames rules production of full colour hard back books was brought into stark relief with the contents of my wallet! Over the years we all have been very critical of Games Workshop's pricing policies* but now it seems the everyone and his dog has jumped on the bandwagon and new sets of wargames rules now routinely cost between £20 and £30, sometimes more when you start to factor in additional materials such as card decks, special dice etc, and that's before you get to the miniatures.

MERCS was the one that caused the sharp intake of breath at the weekend. A reasonable little game, nothing extraordinary but £30 for the full colour hardback rulebook, £6 per faction game deck and £7 per miniature, All in all over £100 for a five miniature a side skirmish game...

7TV caught my eye but £25 for a full colour hardback rulebook before miniatures and (given the nature of the game) dedicated scenery put me off. Yes, I know Crooked Dice give DWMG away free but did 7TV need to be a full colour hardback at £25 when it could have been a (WAB style) colour soft cover with colour insert for £10 to £12?

Then there is SAGA which sounds just perfect for what I want to do Dark Ages wise but again £25 full colour rulebook and then £12 per set of special dice (because who wants to put stickers on D6's?). Ok I already have some Vikings, Saxons and a pile of Normans in the lead mountain but I'm looking at almost £50 for the rules and dice for two factions and I'll be frank unless there is a good offer on somewhere (come on North Star) I'll probably hold off for a bit...

In "ye olden days" I bought rules sets like they were going out of fashion, often to raid for ideas. I don't know how many sets I bought of A5 one colour card cover sets from Tabletop Games but whilst many didn't get played they contained ideas that could be used in home made sets or added to others (Pony Wars was a favourite, the Indian activation system worked well for Orcs in games of WHFB second edition...). But the low cost rules producer is now appears to be a thing of the past which to my mind is a shame as we lose sight of the fact that the product isn't the physical paper but the ideas inside...

The question is the what is the need for the superlative production values, are we all now being seduced by the "ooh shiny" syndrome? Taking MERCS for example, the product description on the website tells you (very) little about the rules but regarding the production values (and I quote): "Spot UV varnishing on a hard gloss lamination cover, 176 four color pages on 157 gsm matte art paper, Case bound, Smyth sewn, Over 100 artist illustrations and 221 full color photos!" Hold on are we losing perspective here? Ok, we don't necessarily want to return to the days of badly typed, photocopied old school rules of the 1980's but "157 gsm matte art paper" and "Spot UV varnishing" (whatever that is)?

The other question is padding. Take Bull Run To Gettysburg, the rules are only 38 pages of the 160 full colour pages and some of those 38 pages are 3/4 illustration and this is not unusual (if the game of MERCS we played was representative I'd guess you could get those rules on two sides - ok, there are probably 'advanced' rules, but the core system is nearly a bag of a fag packet job).

Yes you can argue that in the grand scheme of things £25 is not too much compared to going for a Chinese takeaway or the cinema and certainly the enjoyment of you play a number of games is more lasting, but I'm leaning towards the view that I'd happily buy three or four nicely produced sets at £10 to £15 that I may or may not play very often than gamble on one at £30 that costs that much more just because it looks pretty. And really if you want something to leave on the coffee table in the living room to impress visitors surely you'd pick some pretentious volume on modern art than a book about toy soldiers? :-)

* GW are taking the coffee table production to beyond the extreme, the current WHFB hardback is so thick and heavy it is to my mind unusable. I don't know if Saul has opened his copy unlike the well thumbed A5 paperback rulebook that came in the starter set...

Saturday 10 September 2011

Colours 2011 (or The Case Of The Mysteriously Closed Wallet)

Saul and I went to Colours at Newbury today, normally a show which has an adverse impact on my finances but strangely not so today. I've been looking forward to going for a while now but didn't have much of a spending plan other than possibly getting some ACW artillery for the forthcoming ACW project. I had spent some time perusing the Perry Miniatures website and left quite enthused to buy some 12-pounders, maybe some dismounted cavalry and horse holders and even the outside chance of a wheeled ambulance. In the end I didn't buy any of this largely due to the fact that Dave Thomas only had one artillery pack in the ACW racks which had gaping holes in so I didn't see much point buying a small part of what I wanted...

The only (yes only) purchase was a copy of Grindhouse Games Incursion from West Wind which was on sale for £15 from its normal £35. I had considered buying it for Saul last Christmas and as it's his birthday next week and he likes WWW2 I splashed the cash on this. There were a couple of things that caught my eye including some resin nice craters with sandbags from one company that would have been good for 40k but didn't look like they would quite allow a heavy weapons base to be placed inside but overall there was nothing that screamed "ooh shiny" at me and two things I would have bought, Gripping Beasts' new Saga rules and the new Clash of Empires supplement, were not available yet (both due to be released in the next week apparently, did no one check the show diary and miss the big show?).

However as I wasn't spending money I did have more time to look at the games and even play a couple. First off Saul and I tried out MERCS, a SF skirmish game West Wind are importing. It was quite fun using character cards to not only show stats and rules but also as the measure for figure movement. Fun though it was the £30 price tag for an, admittedly nice, rule book was too rich for my taste (especially as you still needed to but the card decks at £6 a faction and miniatures at £7 each (I thought they were £7 for three which I thought was a bit steep and only realised this was the price per individual miniature (gulp!) when I checked the website when I got home.

We also managed to play Tusk in 28mm put on by Lincombe Barn which was so popular with the punters we didn't get on the table until quite late in the afternoon. We both had a lot of fun playing Tusk, it is a while since I played it, and Saul's surviving bowman with a haul of two mammoths and two babies saw him crowned king (I'd got off to a great two mammoth start but a saber-tooth and ferocious baby mammoth wiped out my small hunting party!).

There were a number of other good games, Hammerin' Iron was very popular and we didn't get a chance to play and I was personally impressed with the War and Conquest Peloponnesian War game for obvious reasons. The big VBCW battle caught my eye and intrigued Saul as he is studying the inter-war period in GCSE History and there was a big Isandlwana display that looked good but really if you ae going to make a huge mountain, paint that many toy soldiers and lug it all to a show why don't you play with it?

As usual I've run all the photos I took today through iMovie and added some prog to it...

Friday 9 September 2011

Bull Run To... Marathon

Having sent most of the week in Northern Ireland working in the fair, but rather wet, city of Derry I haven't managed any progress on the painting front but returned to find a nice pile of post including the new Foundry ACW Rules and the Ancient Warfare 2011 Special.

As previously mentioned I got a really good deal on Bull Run To Gettysburg and having given them a quick read they seem to be the sort of game I was looking for to make use of the pile of Perry plastics I bought in a fit of "ohh shiny" when the first plastics were released a few years back. At the time I planned to use the Lardies ACW rules but couldn't get my head round them. BRTG is much more old school, handfuls of D6 and what looks like an enjoyable game in a couple of hours. I suppose ACW perfectionists won't like them but they'll do me and now I have an incentive to paint the pile of plastics so look forward to an ACW month coming soon...

The production qualities are really top notch and much better than my only other experience of Foundry production values, Medieval Warfare. The rules only comprise 40 pages of the 160 page book and most pages have lovely colour pictures of beautifully painted Foundry ACW miniatures, the rest being a mix of painting guides, army lists, scenery construction, potted history, copiable flags etc.

Overall if the ACW is your pet period you'll probably not like this and I'm sure ACW buffs will be able to pick historical holes in the rules. However if you of an old school mind, like the idea of buying a few boxes of plastics and having some fun brigade level blue v the gray games then I think you'll like this.

My other reading material that the nice postman delivered was the Ancient Warfare 2011 special on the Battle of Marathon. Having flirted with the Society of Ancients for one year I have found Ancient Warfare magazine a much more enjoyable and unpretentious window into the period.

The annual specials are always well done and this one is no exception covering the build up to the battle, the historical records and the battle itself in a detailed, but easily readable series of articles (with I suspect enough footnotes and references to keep the more dedicated happy).

Whilst I really have no interest in raising a Persian army after I finish (hah!) the Athenians and Spartans largely due to the amount of miniatures I'd have to paint, it's still been interesting reading...

Friday 2 September 2011

Our War: Ten Years In Afghanistan

A few months back I posted about a National Geographic documentary called Restrepo: Outpost Afghanistan about a US army unit's tour of duty in the Korengal Valley in Afghanistan, today I watched the first of a three part BBC series about British troops in Afghanistan entitled Our War.

Interestingly most of the footage is filmed by the actual troops on the ground and this episode, entitled Ambushed, was largely filmed by Sergeant Simon Planter, Platoon Sergeant of the 3rd Platoon 1st Royal Anglians.

For the most part it centres on their deployment at Now Zad in the north of Hemand province and focuses on their first offensive mission against the Taliban which unfortunately results in the death of 19-year-old Private Chris Gray, the 53rd British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.

The BBC often gets criticised these days (sometimes by myself) but this 70 minute documentary is exceptionally well done and a moving tribute to Chris Gray. The programme intersperses interviews with his o/c, platoon colleagues and family with footage filmed by his platoon sergeant and intelligent use of maps and computer graphics.

My only criticism of the BBC is their failure to show it on BBC One at 9pm on a Saturday night as a fitting tribute to the brave men and women serving their country in Afghanistan...

 The series is being released on DVD later in the year but I have found it posted on You Tube here, along with the next two episodes in the series, for anyone who missed it on TV.