Thursday 31 March 2011

Vimiero, Whoa-oh-ohh (To the strains of Volare)

I had a very enjoyable game of Command and Colours Napoleonics at the club yesterday - Mr. Fox and I tackled the Vimiero 1808 scenario - and as a result have had my initial impressions of the game reinforced in the best possible way. The period 'feel' is outstanding and so my thoughts are already heading off into the far horizon with ideas and plans for scenarios and campaigns - the bread and butter of wargames.

The scenario itself was a very close run encounter and despite the 6 - 4 Anglo - Portuguese winning margin went right to the wire. In fact, for a long period the French had the opposition on the ropes - especially on their right flank, opposite the village of Ventosa which Mr Fox dramatically carried at bayonet point and thereby threatened the flank of the entire allied position. Fortunately for the Allies the French impetus on this flank was not sustained (due to a combination of poor cards and lack of immediately available reserves - and much muttering from Mr. Fox about the poorly placed cavalry reserve!) and so the timely realignment of the Allies was able to retrieve what was for some time a very tense situation. The centre was largely quiet with some long range artillery fire being the sole activity until some of the French began a half-hearted advance towards the Allied position. This was seen off in fairly emphatic fashion and certainly demonstrated the effectiveness of stationary British infantry uphill with a general to direct affairs! The scenario was decided in the centre as the piecemeal French attack was made a meal of, in pieces. In the defence of the French (and certainly not a reflection on the canny generalship of Monsieur Reynard) the cards they held were not particularly helpful in conducting a large scale coordinated offensive!

I am looking forward to seeing the expansions in due course - the Spanish are next which will complete the Peninsular forces - and I understand that a 'big battle' set is planned eventually for those Cecil B DeMille spectaculars beloved of most wargamers - Leipzig on the dinner table anyone?

Wednesday 30 March 2011

Battletech: 25 Years Young

It's back! The game of mechanised mayhem involving giant walking fighting machines piloted by a single crewman - Battletech. A new starter set has been issued by Catalyst games of this classic sci-fi hex based game to mark the 25th anniversary of the launch of the game. Alongside of OGRE this was one of my favourite games and although the science aspect could best be described as tenuous (in the extreme) this small fact never got in the way of a good game. This new edition contains the following:

24 unpainted, ready-to-play plastic Battletech minis 2 unpainted, premium-quality plastic Battletech minis One 12-page full-color quick-start rulebook will have players into the action in minutes 36-page book of pre-generated Battletech Record Sheets One 80-page full-color rulebook Inner Sphere at a Glance, a 56-page full-color book of universe background and Battletech technical data One 16-page full-color Painting and Tactics Guide Two heavy-duty cards of compiled tables Two 18″ x 24″ game-board quality maps

The retail price of this USD 49.99 which means it should be around the GBP 40 level which is a pretty good value considering the kit you get in the box.

This does put me on the horns of a dilemma again though as my plan was to tackle an OGRE set up after the ACW ships had been completed (the next 4 vessels are now at the fitting out stage and should be ready in the next few days). I want a tactical sci-fi set up of some kind so I suspect I will have to reconsider my plans once again in this regard in the light of this new and most welcome release.

Tuesday 29 March 2011

Gotterdammerung in the Atlantic at some point....

My visit to Navwar this Saturday will see the acquisition of the 1/3000th replacements of my recently departed Axis and Allies: War at Sea WW2 naval collection. Not the entire set up (at least not at the moment!) as that would be too large to obtain in one hit but it will consist of all the North Atlantic/Arctic types I will need. This means of course the Royal Navy and its German opposition. I have mentioned before that the familiar scenario of a German breakout into the North Atlantic by varying degrees of force and with the subsequent Royal Navy pursuit always makes for a great mini campaign (Operation Seeadler I ran a couple of years ago at the club being a good case in point) and so I am keen to tackle similar ideas in the future; together with the Arctic convoy run. These actions are helped considerably by the relatively modest forces (at the tactical level) and also from the lack of great fleets of aircraft; a complication for the Pacific gamer and no mistake!

Using this scale will have a big advantage for me in that I will be able to make use of my Hexon terrain (in much the same way as I have done so for the WW1 and Balkan Wars collection) and so in due course I will need to tackle the WW2 variant of the hex based MoBaS (Memoir of Battle at Sea) rules.

This is an opportunistic purchase in that I am only getting this kit because I will be in the area of the shop but I should point out that it has been on the 'to do' list ever since I disposed of the War at Sea kit. I will replicate the Mediterranean collection in time but this will be a considerably larger undertaking. The newly acquired models, after the inevitable inspection and admiring glances(?) will then go into storage until I am ready to undertake the painting and basing. Given my projected schedule of upcoming projects I should point out that Christmas 2015 is looking pretty good for this!

Monday 28 March 2011

The Luxury of Familiarity and a Visit to Navwar

Due to the acquisition of my new netbook this weekend and sundry other domestic duties the ACW models have taken rather a back seat but this evening I should back in harness on the four models I currently have underway. My construction technique for these models is now so well established that I know pretty much how much time most aspects will take so having some time out is not really a major problem. They should be ready for the end of the week with little difficulty. The overall plan for completing the construction of the models and the painting is still in place and I want to seriously try to get all the models built, painted and based by the end of April and am hoping to make use of the bank holidays to apply the finishing touches. As long as I can get a good run at the task then it should not present any major difficulties. Painting the casemate ironclads - both the Confederate and the Union City class gunboats - should be straightforward enough although the myriad of side wheel vessels will be less so. The trick will be to pitch the paint job at the level of detail of the model so copious amounts of washes and drybrushing and agonising over particular shades will probably not be the way to go. Having said that, I want the armour to look like armour without having to paint is solely in metallic paint. That will be a bridge I will happily fall off when I get eventually get to it! Next Friday sees my grandson's first birthday and whilst I argued that buying him the complete Oman's History of the Peninsular War as a present would be a good idea SWMBO unsurprisingly took a dim view of this. We are heading over to the family abode on Saturday for a visit with birthday presents and much oohing and ahhing at the little fella - he is now up and about and in need of constant supervision (rather like his granddad I suspect!) but, I have been given permission to slope off for an hour as the family abode is a mere 5 minute walk from the Navwar shop in Seven Kings. I have in mind a number of acquisitions - mainly as replacements in a more usable scale for my former WW2 collection of Axis and Allies: War at Sea models. Despite my fondness for the Mediterranean the first part will probably be replacing the North Atlantic kit i.e. the Home Fleet and the Kreigsmarine.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Boot Sale Bargains and a Notable First

Despite managing to forget to change the clocks (you are in good company Bob - it must be the weather!) SWMBO and I managed to get to not one but two boot sales and the results were pretty good to say the least! I managed to add to the library three books - two at 10p each and one for a pound. The first of these is a biography of Lawrence of Arabia - The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia by Phillip Knightly and Colin Simpson. My interest in the life and career of this most enigmatic historical figure is well known and this is a book I had seen kicking around on ebay for some time although I had never gotten around to acquiring the same. It is an ex-library book complete with stamps and a ripped out frontsheet but for 10p that is hardly a disadvantage. Should it prove to be any good then I will probably acquire a 'proper' version in due course.

The next of my 10p bargains was a book of which I had never heard of ; neither have I heard of the author. The book is titled A History of the Balkans by Ferdinand Schevill and it covers the region from the Byzantine era up to the end of the Great War. Needless to say I was very pleased to get this and am looking forward to reacquainting myself with the region prior to tackling the 15mm armies I have for the war of 1912-13. The final book of the three and the most expensive at a pound is 1812 - Napoleon's Fatal March on Moscow by Adam Zamoyski. The campaign in Russia in 1812 is often cited as the beginning of the end for Napoleon and certain as an epic of high drama and human endeavour it would be hard to find anything comparable. Many years ago I started a 28mm Napoleonic Russian army and over the years I have read and owned a number of titles on the subject. This book then will be a welcome addition to my modest Napoleonic library - especially given my recent acquisition of Command and Colours Napoleonics although I suspect that the Russians will be sometime in the future as far as availability is concerned! The notable first referred to in the title was the fact that this is my first post I have written using my new netbook. Prior to this I had never even used a laptop so getting used to not having a mouse was a unique experience - I think I have gotten the hang of it though. Setting the netbook up was very easy and I now have Office 2007 (I am still getting used to this so the 2010 version will be some way off yet!) in place as well as some of my other desk top features and software. To say that I am really excited about the potential of this new toy is a massive understatement and I was suitably impressed with appropriateness of the logo on the outside of the box - The Computer has just become Personal again'.

All in all then it has been a busy weekend but a rewarding one - next weekend promises to be more of the same but I will be able to spend some time at the Navwar shop on Saturday so the domestic round will be nicely balanced out with some 'me' time.

Friday 25 March 2011

'Mobilis in Mobile' or Finding what made Nemo tick....

I have finally gone and done it. I have purchased a netbook for my cyber activities on the move (Mobilis in Mobile even!). I have been pondering this leap of technological faith for some time and initially was looking at a full blown laptop. The problem is, my desktop if a pretty good machine and so having in effect another computer was a little on the excessive side, even by my standards. My older PC is now in my daughters room and is perfectly adequate for her needs (centred as they around homework, facebook and I-tunes!) so adding a third was not really going to be a good idea. I chose a netbook specifically because it is not a laptop and so the plus points of size and ease of transport as well as the 'stripped down' nature of its capabilities means that I can focus on the use it will get - namely supporting my cyber life and writing - rules, blog(s) and many other things. I have roughly three hours a day I can devote to computer time (I am not counting work in this!) so if I can use that via this portable function then in theory I will have more time to spend at home on model building, painting and interacting with the family.
That probably sounds a very tenuous justification and I suppose to an extent it may be true - still, a theory has to be disproved before it can be consigned to the scrapheap of good intentions and bright ideas!
Mobilis in Mobile - mobile in the mobile element (as near as makes no difference) is certainly very true in this respect and my thanks to Jules Verne for coming up with it!

On the Campaign Trail....

I expect that most wargamers have at some point tried taking part in a campaign. My first introduction to this aspect of the hobby was back in the very late 1970's when I was lucky enough to take part in the very tale end of Eric Knowles's Madasahatta campaign set in a late colonial/early WW1 period. That in itself was great fun but I was more actively involved in his next campaign - the WW1 inspired South East Asian Naval campaign fought using Fletcher Pratt's naval wargames rules. Again, this was enormous fun and as an aside was responsible for my life-long interest in matters Ottoman Turkish. It was basically WW1 in the far east as far as the opposing forces were concerned and generated some truly memorable wargames, still fondly remembered by those that participated. Sadly, to the best of my knowledge, no written accounts of this campaign (unlike Madasahatta which produced a couple of period newspapers and are available to read on Bob Cordery's Colonial Wargames website: exist which is a shame as it would have certainly made for a stimulating read.

Both of these campaigns provided much in the way of entertainment and the concepts employed have stayed with me and have shaped much of my thinking along the lines of setting up and running any of my own future campaigns. I have a number of ideas for campaign material - the mention of the rivers earlier was quite intentional - and I have wrestled with how best to tackle this, both as a solo and club night undertaking. I think I have reached a solution to this issue and in doing so it will allow me to not only see the campaign through to its conclusion but also, and more importantly, ensure that the required level of enthusiasm can be sustained both from myself (that should be easy as it is my pet project!) and the participants.

The biggest hurdle to overcome in organising or running a campaign has to be that of sustaining the interest and enthusiasm of the participants. I offer no definitive answers for this problem (human nature being what it is) but my own thoughts on the subject are very much along the lines of keeping the scale and intent at a small level, at least for the club night games - regardless of whether or not the overall intent of the campaign is epic in its scope. An example of this would be (and using a topical subject, at least for me anyway) an operation based on a tributary of the Mississippi, say the Yazoo or the Red River - in other words, a campaign within a campaign. This would probably be more achievable in terms of gaming in a club environment than the whole war on the rivers - a tasty side dish rather than the full main course.

My idea then is to run the campaign at the strategic level myself with the tactical events being handled by the participants if appropriate or myself if needs be, depending of the strategic situation arising. The club night action will probably be at the 'linked scenario' level and the results will be then be applied to the overall 'big picture'. To support this, and as a way of keeping the all important interest alive, I intend to produce a campaign journal/diary detailing the action as it occurs, suitably embellished with the appropriate period 'feel'.

The trick will be to ensure that the tactical and campaign level rules are of a similar level of complexity so that the action flows in a relatively seamless way and the transition from strategic map to tactical table top is handled sympathetically.

The map work is already under way for this and the forces are being amassed and I am hoping that ultimately this campaign will prove to be suitable finale to the work and effort thus far expended. It will be a lot of fun (I hope) and if it is even half as successful as the two campaigns mentioned earlier I will be a very contented and happy wargamer!

Thursday 24 March 2011

Back in the Balsa Wood Groove in Cyberspace

Confederate Gunboats soon to be joined by another three similar vessels.
The past week or so has seen only modest amounts of activity on the ship building front (to be pedantic, river craft should be referred to as vessels rather than ships) due to a number of reasons. I have had a couple of domestic duties to attend to as well as some work 'stuff' so time has been at a premium to an extent. I have also been mulling over the acquisition of a mobile computing facility - either a laptop or a netbook. I have pretty much made my decision as to which type I am going for (a netbook rather than a laptop) and I expect to purchasing this very soon. The main advantage for me will be the ability to make use of my PC 'stuff' whilst on the move and that maintaining my cyber world will be far easier and convenient. We have two PCs at home, the newest of which (15 months young) is a very good machine - certainly for what we use it for - and the older one now sits in my daughters bedroom for her homework, facebook, I tunes and various other bits and pieces. Having a netbook will mean that I can use the time away from the house to tackle my cyber stuff so that when I am at home I will have more time for building and painting (thats the theory although I dare say that SWMBO may have a hand in deciding EXACTLY how this extra time is spent...)

In the meantime though I have been taking stock of the ACW project and where it is now at. The next batch of hulls have been marked out and so construction has resumed in earnest. I have three more Confederate cotton clad gunboats underway and the CSS General Earl Van Dorn. The latter will be more of the same featured in an earlier post and by all accounts was a fairly common conversion. The 'arrowhead' at the front of the superstructure should be angled in a wedge shape as well as pointed but I was not able get this to look right so they will stay as they are. Since we only have assorted artist's impressions to go by I don't think that is altogether a disaster. Once these are built (all being well this should be over the weekend) I really will be on the last lap as I will have just a dozen more vessels left.
Bring on the paintbrushes I say!

Wednesday 23 March 2011

My Electronic Military Library - So far....

For my 50th birthday last year SWMBO gave me a Sony PRS 600 ebook reader. This has proven to be an absolute delight as I have been able to download (for free) a veritable library of books that I would otherwise either have no chance of buying or, to be frank, of not wanting to splash the cash! Aside from the complete Sherlock Holmes, Brigadier Gerard, Professor Challenger, a smattering of Sabatini, Dumas, H.G.Wells, Jules Verne etc I have also managed to acquire a number of really useful military titles. These are as follows:

Some Priciples of Maritime Strategy by Julian Corbett
Major Operations during the American War of Independence by A.T. Mahan
Sea Power in the War of 1812 (Volumes 1 and 2) by A.T Mahan
The Gulf and Inland Waters - The Navy in the Civil War (Volume 3) by A.T. Mahan
The Influence of Seapower of History 1660 to 1783 by A.T. Mahan
The River War by W.S. Churchill
The Story of the Malakand Field Force by W.S.Churchill
Afghan Wars 1842 and 1878-80 by Archibald Forbes
The Story of the Barbary Corsairs by Stanley Lane-Poole
The Balkan Wars by Jacob Gould Schurman
Montcalm and Wolfe by Francis Parkman
Famous Sea Fights by John Hale
and of course, Little Wars by H.G. Wells.
Most of these came from but there are many other sources of free ebooks. Whilst a reader will never replace that wonderful freshly printed aroma of a new book; nor will it ever be a substitute for the sheer pleasure of just browsing in a bookshop it is certainly a valuable resource and for portability has no equal.
The Gulf and Inland Waters title is really good and has been a valuable addition to my small collection of books covering the naval actions of the ACW.

Reflecting on 'My Way'

Nothing of import to report last night as I was on taxi duty although whilst waiting around I did manage to start reading Jac Weller's Wellington in the Peninsula. This is a very good one volume history of the Anglo Portuguese operations and it forms a great primer for the period. As I have said previously, I have no intention of painting figures for this era and am happy to use the unit blocks from Command and Colours Napoleonics for my games, at some point on my Hexon terrain. Mention of reading this book (again - it is one that I have owned previously) gave rise to a train thought around the cyclic nature of our interests. As a wargamer of nearly 40 years I have experimented with many periods over that time but there always seems to be some that I come back to periodically. Up until I moved to London in early 1978 I only ever gamed Napoleonics and WW2 but since that time I have added naval, ancients, WW1 and a host of others. These have then in turn also slotted into the cyclic round and regularly come to the fore of my interests - usually as the result of a new book appearing or perhaps a range of models or figures; even seeing an inspiring game at a show or in a magazine.

A number of other periods/genres have also appeared over time - sci-fi and fantasy, ACW, the Balkan Wars, Vietnam, 16th century land and sea and even the 18th century at one point. I suppose the point is that all this diversity has made for a very interesting and stimulating hobby but the downside has ironically been the strength of such an approach. Too many periods equals reduced effort in each one!

I don't know if it is because I have finally grown up in respect of how I tackle projects or not but taking the ACW ships as a case in point I have thus far managed to resist going off on a tangent and trying something else although I freely concede that I have been thinking out loud about what I shall be undertaking next. It is certainly true to say that I have had some frustrating times with some of the models I have built and potential distractions have been many and varied but I am still staying on the true path and so will be pressing on until the last model is built and painted before I undertake anything else. This is a first for me and no mistake! My attention span is usually quite a brittle one simply because I tend to throw myself at a project and work with a degree of intensity that is very difficult to maintain - 'the flame that burns brightest burns for the shortest time' (or something similar, from the film Blade Runner IIRC) - and so I hit a wall very quickly. I suppose the lesson here then, if indeed there is one when the truth is so self evident is that the only way to finish a project is to, well, finish the project by not allowing yourself to get sidetracked.

To reinforce this new found sense of conviction then I can do better than to echo some of the words from 'Ol Blue Eyes himself - "But through it all, when there was doubt, I ate it up, then spat it out!"

Yes, it was my way....

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Balkan Wars and "So many wonderful things!"

Hurrah!! The Osprey above is not out until (allegedly) next month but for me it will be a most welcome addition to the library. It will also give me the inspiration to finally tackle the 15mm Irregular Miniatures Balkan Wars kit I have had languishing in my collection for what seems like an age. My set up for this period is not large - it was never intended to be - and each force equates to roughly a large DBA army of roughly 20 bases of models.
My project list is fairly modest in respect of models and painting with the ACW naval kit taking pole position in terms of effort and time and this is unlikely to change for a couple of months. I still have models to build for the actual fighting side and have not included the unarmed tugs, coal barges, transports and shore batteries/forts etc which will be a separate mini project all of its own.
I am going to scratchbuild some sci-fi kit for an OGRE type set up and the planning for this (designing the models) is fairly well advanced. The final amount of material for this will be fairly modest - no more than a couple of dozen vehicles or so, some 6mm infantry and probably three OGREs. I will need to tackle some terrain for this but nothing major.
I have decided to explore the Art of Tactic system produced by Zvezda although I am in no hurry to kick this off - probably because it would prove to be a huge distraction! My initial thoughts are along the lines of acquiring a couple of base sets and then add the extra kit(s) to taste - with the whole thing coming in at around £150..
My final projected project will be another scratch building naval undertaking. Previously I had mentioned about pre dreadnoughts but I have decided against this for a number of reasons. What I will be tackling though are 16th century galleys for use in the Mediterranean. I certainly have sufficient reference material for this and it will only require a couple of dozen or so models. This will explain why I have been messing around with lateen sails and such like!
Gaming wise I want to spend some time on my various Command and Colours games with the Napoleonics being the preferred option - although Memoir 44 and Battle Cry will certainly not be neglected. The beauty of these is that everything is ready to use and so the only effort additional effort involved is in designing scenarios which is a task I can tackle on my train journey to and from work. I have given some very serious thought to acquiring the Ancients version but will need to research this further.
This then is the plan (of sorts) and I suppose the only thing I can add to this is that I can offer no guarantees that in the interim something shiny will come along to scupper some or all of this!

Sunday 20 March 2011

The Magnificent 7 aka 'Pook's Turtles'

Things have been a little quiet on the modelling front this week - mainly because of a number of distractions of a WW2, Ancient and Napoleonic kind! - but I was able to finish the final three city class gunboats for the Union. I now have models of the seven that were built and plan to follow this post up with some details about these vessels. They certainly had an active war and were often used 'mob-handed' so having models of each of them available will be handy. They have been built using my tried and tested casemate ironclad technique and to be honest, the only fiddly part of the procedure is the gunports - 13 on each model making 91 pieces of 5mm by 4mm plastic card for the class.
Following on from finishing these vessels I have changed my order of construction slightly in that the next three models will be the remaining three Confederate cotton clad gunboats rather than the Union timberclads. I am doing this purely for the numbers as I have already built three of these and so the technique is a known one. That will leave the final models for the river phase - the aforementioned Union timberclads - Lexington, Tyler and Conestoga - and then the Walking Beam ships.
I must confess that whilst I have really enjoyed the model building for this project I am now really looking forward to the painting (I never thought I would say that!) as I am desperate to finally get these on the table and in action.
I just need one final heave to cross the finishing line but my construction 'tank' feels like it is running on vapour!

Saturday 19 March 2011

Command and Colours Napoleonics - Expansion Number 1

Synchronicity in action yet again! No sooner than I finish extolling the virtues of The Peninsular War Atlas than along comes the 'missing link' from the Command and Colours Napoleonic game - the Spanish! This is obviously good news for the Peninsular gamer as the Spanish army played an important role in the war - despite its abysmal record against the French. It managed a few victories along the way but by and large was more of a threat than an actual menace. The French could simply not ignore the Spanish armies and so had to keep their forces spread out and not employed in an overwhelming mass against the Anglo-Portuguese.
The contents of this expansion (not yet available but it has made the production pre order cut) look something like this:
One 2" spine box
Scenario Booklet that features 18 historical scenarios plus Expansion rules.
2 Spanish National Unit Reference Cards
181 Blocks
95 Infantry blocks (71 Spanish - 24 French)
73 Cavalry blocks (39 Spanish - 34 French)
9 Artillery blocks (9 Spanish)
4 Leader blocks (4 Spanish)
3 Block Label sheets
1 Terrain Tile Sheet - contains 15 double sided Terrain Tiles
1 Square and Counter sheet
1 Spanish Infantry Square Track
4 Spanish Square Counters
9 Spanish Victory Banner counters (Spanish Flag one side, French Flag other side)
6 Spanish Guerrilla Action tokens
The price is quoted at USD 50 so will probably be around the £35 level over here.
I can't wait!

A Work of Profound Importance

You may recall my recent acquisition of the Command and Colours Napoleonic game and my subsequent first game defeat at the hands of the redoubtable Mr Fox. the game has its theatre of operations set firmly in the Spanish Peninsula which is a theatre of the Napoleonic wars I have sadly neglected. This was an oversight I fully intended to put right and recently came across Jac Weller's Wellington in the Peninsula 1808 to 1814. I have read this book in the past and own his volume on the Waterloo campaign and so there was no hesitation when the chance came to get a copy. It is a first class read, full of maps and orders of battle - all the stuff any self respecting wargamer would lap up without pause to breathe! As a one volume history it is had to beat but a chance comment in a conversation with Mr. Fox has done exactly that - well if not exactly that then it has come very close. I am of course referring to the new book published by Osprey - The Peninsular War Atlas by Colonel Nick Lipscombe. This is a work of profound importance and, as Prof. Richard Holmes pointed out is unlikely to be bettered.
The book comes in at nearly 400 pages long and covers the war in Spain and France with maps upon maps upon even more maps - carefully drafted by the author having spent some 20 odd years walking the ground himself so the level of detail is incredible. Aside from the 161 full page maps there is a very good history of the war (which includes the Spanish activities - something Weller largely leaves out but to be fair he is primarily concerned with the Duke's direct activities) and plenty of orders of battle and a very useful chronology. The author also recounts the story behind the attempts to map the theatre in years gone by - just after the end of the wars in fact - which is very interesting and certainly not something I was aware of.
The book comes in a robust slip case and uses high quality paper throughout; in fact the entire product just oozes luxurious quality. Best of all, Amazon are selling this for £25 rather than the £45 that Osprey are!
This is a truly impressive work and its value for the gamer cannot be overstated - for Command and Colours Napoleonics it will make scenario design a real pleasure and I am sure will be used for many a campaign. Any wargamer worth his salt will enjoy looking at clear and accurate maps for whatever is their chosen period and so this book is a model of clarity in that respect.

I must apologise for the flash reflection from the books cover - there is not really a bright sun shining over the RHA drivers!
A truly awesome achievement - whether the Peninsular War is your 'thing' or not!

Friday 18 March 2011

Art of Tactic - On the Horns of a Moral Dilemma

You may recall my having mentioned about this miniatures based game produced by Zvesda a short while ago. Aside from having seen some of the infantry in Modelzone (and a couple of mentions about the tanks from some gaming acquaintances) I have not come across any of this in the flesh so to speak (or should that be, in the plastic?). The base set depicted is now slowly becoming available in the UK for roughly £50 a go which represents good value for money considering the amount of kit contained in the box.
I am seriously considering investing in this system for a number of reasons - the main one being of course because I have a long time interest in WW2 although the early Eastern Front campaign is one that I not hugely familiar with. The intriguing about this system for me is the fact that it makes use of different scales between infantry and the vehicles - 20mm for the infantry and 15mm for the tanks. This is an approach I would never had considered previously as mixing scales within a collection used to be hanging offence in certain gaming quarters! I actually now think that this is plus point as the tabletop footprint of a smaller scaled vehicle will be less intrusive than the full scaled version.
The game is designed for use on a hexagonal playing surface which means that my Hexon will find a ready made use for the rules contained therein or indeed and other hex based items I choose to use - there are after all, some very nice hex based sets around.
One of the big advantages for me though is the fact that in one fell swoop you have got a nice representational set up that will not need a huge amount of extras initially and in any event, in 15mm there is a huge selection of vehicles and kit available from other manufacturers which could be drafted in if required. The purists may say that this 'one-stop' approach is indicative of the instant 'want it now' syndrome that society seems to have embraced as the norm - not that I am bucking the trend in this respect!
As a gamer that does not own anything WW2 related (you can't really count the two Vickers Light tanks!) except for a substantial amount of Memoir 44 the problems of alternate scales etc just do not exist for me. I know of many gamers that have the same forces in two or even three scales but luckily for me in this I do not have such a 'collection dilemma' to overcome.
This is still very much in the planning/consideration stage and so there is no urgent hurry to splash the cash as yet - I have too many other things on the go at present in any event - although I will be keeping a weather eye open for it.
Does a thought about project count as an actual project or is that a form of wargaming 'new-shiny-toy' self delusion? Our temptations are many and varied and I suppose the old saw of 'just because I can does it mean I should?' applies in this case (and probably in a good few others as well if truth be told!).

Thursday 17 March 2011

Slower Progress and the Sometimes Dubious Benefits of Pottering

Due to a work related evening last night I was unable to get anything done in respect of the first three of the final batch of models currently under construction. I have three Cairo class gunboats at the fitting out stage (funnels, pilot houses and gunports) so they will be ready soon and then after that will follow the three Union timberclads. Past experience has taught me the folly of attempting anything when tired - especially any 'fiddly' detail work - so I spent a half an hour or so 'pottering' about in my gaming/modelling 'office-cum-man-cave'.

I find this to be a very therapeutic pursuit and it serves to stoke up the enthusiasm when all you are doing is flagging for whatever reason (in this case due to having spent a considerable time poring over some quite involved spreadsheets). A short browse through my ACW naval library soon restored my positive thinking and I am now as keen as ever to resume the building.

It also serves to inspire the soul and to plant those little seeds of projects for further contemplation and consideration at a later date.

All this whilst contentedly sipping a cup of tea and thoughtfully nibbling on a chocolate digestive biscuit....

Ideas can sneak up on you and sometimes from the most unlikely sources.

Now just where did I put that XYZ miniatures catalogue? I am sure they produce a range of figures for the ABC war....;-)

Tuesday 15 March 2011

A Most Welcome Addition - Albeit it 3 Months Late!!

It would have been really nice if I had discovered this book three months ago! As it is though I should perhaps be saying 'better late than never'. Warships of the Civil War Navies by Paul Silverstone is an absolute goldmine of a book. The author is a noted US naval history specialist and has written many books on the subject of the warships of the said navy from steam to the nuclear age. The book is stuffed full of technical detail, some very good photos and much else besides. It has presented me though with a small problem. Stern Wheelers.
I had forgotten about stern wheelers....
This in itself would not be so bad but for the fact that a couple of the Ellet Ram fleet were stern wheelers and as yet I have not built any. I cannot think about a river based set up for the ACW without stern wheelers because whenever you think of the Mississippi you always thing of stern wheeled paddle steamers (at least I do although the side wheelers are probably easier to make).
It is not a problem though as I shall merely use a pair of the Ellets as other gunboats or transports and will replace them with the aforementioned stern wheelers. I have an idea as to how to make the rear wheel for these ships but it will need a visit to either a hardware shop or possibly Ikea. Wooden dowels, thats the answer - especially those that have grooves in them.
We shall see.....Stern wheelers, I can't believe I missed stern wheelers....(mumbles to himself, incoherently....).

'Beware the Ides of March' or even 'Infamy, infamy....they've all got it Infamy....!!'

I have played a large number of Ancient games over the years (although not recently) but do not have any armies or such at the present time. Whilst I doubt if I will be painting figures for this period (of several thousand years!) anytime soon I have been reawakening my long held interest in the wars of the late Roman republic. I recently acquired Adrian Goldsworthy's book - Anthony and Cleopatra and am awaiting Caesar by the same author. My solution to gaming this will probably be to use the Command and Colours ancient game - there is an expansion that covers the Roman Civil War although I will need to check which one! Aside from the inevitable in house fighting the period saw the Romans fighting the Parthians, Armenians, Mithraditic Pontic, Gauls and many others so the potential is huge.
I suppose this probably seems like a rather contrived post given the date but I was powerless to resist it and in all honesty the period in question does have a lot of potential especially given that the Carry On team covered it so sympathetically and so one has to ask the question: What's not to love?
'Et tu Brutii?'

Monday 14 March 2011

Of Masts and Spars and being Purely Representational

Whilst building the latest batch of models for my ACW set up I have been experimenting with constructing masts and spars for some of the Gulf based blue water ships. Initially I made a simple brig rig and then a Lateen type. I used the only cocktail sticks I had available which are made from bamboo. They are a little on the thick side but the basic technique appears so far to be pretty sound. Basically I gently filed a groove in the mast where the spar needed to be mounted. I then filed a corresponding groove on the mast so that the surface to be glued was square. This took a little experimentation but I managed to get this to go together quite easily. I used Uhu contact adhesive and then 'flooded' the join with some super glue. It appears to fairly robust and so I will try this with some square rigged masts.

Should this be successful then the implications for my modelling tray are profound as this will open up a whole range of periods I can tackle on a scratch built basis. The Lateen sail is perhaps a clue as to where my thoughts are heading....;-)

I realise that many gamers will ask themselves why? Why bother when the models are available from XYZ Models limited? The simple truth is that I am enjoying the 'old school-ness' of making my own kit and this is just another facet of the hobby I can really enjoy. It takes me back to the days of being an impoverished student and the irony is that way back then I was probably of the opposite view and would have rather purchased the latest and most detailed range of figures available (and probably did!)! I genuinely believe that many of the models we take for granted now are really superbly detailed works of art and as such are beyond my modest talents in terms of painting etc. At table ranges models are effectively markers and close up they are, well models and I believe they should be treated as such.

I am as impressed as the next man at some of the moving dioramas we see at wargames shows and adorning the pages of our magazines and I have nothing but my admiration for those that choose that path of detail. Its not for me though, hence my home made and purely representational approach.

Vive la Difference I say!

'I Love the small of Balsa Wood in the morning....

....It smells of ....shipbuilding!'

The Rayleigh shipyards resumed the ACW ship building in earnest yesterday with the first of the projected 14 models underway. These are another three City class gunboats - 'Pook's Turtles' - and I need to merely add the front and rear panels to the casemates prior to fitting out with the gunports, hatches, pilot houses and funnels. It does mean I will have the seven vessels in the class which will be useful when I consider any campaign activity. As ever, pictures will follow in due course although as these ships have been seen before that may be considered to be a little bit of a cheat on my part!

I have been giving some thought to the 'walking beam' ships and will probably tackle the first of them once the city class and the final three Union ships are built - the three timberclads: Lexington, Tyler and Conestoga with the former featuring in the picture above.
The final point of modelling note is that I been experimenting with masts and spars using that old standby of wooden cocktail sticks. The ones I have been using are made from bamboo and area little on the thick side but the early signs are very encouraging. I made a lateen rig - for those not of a naval persuasion that is a triangle shaped sail normally associated with such things as 16th century galleys (I cannot for the life of me think why I should have picked such a subject which coincidentally features the Ottoman Turks and the Barbary Corsairs to a large degree.....) - and thus far it looks pretty robust and certainly has a lot of potential. I will try a similar approach for a square rig and see how that turns out and in the meantime will see if I can source a better make of cocktail stick.

Sunday 13 March 2011

It's March so it must be....Boot Sales!!!

Today saw the first of our local boot sales opening up for the season so SWMBO and I headed up the A127 to Dunton, a short drive away. This boot sale is usually huge and we have sometimes not even managed to get around it before exhaustion has set in! I am happy to say that the season kicked off in fine style with a couple of books and a goody bag of 20mm plastic figures and sundry other items (more of which later). The first book is the Complete Encyclopedia of the World's Battleships and Battlecruisers from 1860 to 1945 by Tony Gibbons. I have owned a copy of this in the past but it disposed of a number of years ago (and I almost immediately regretted doing so!) so it was a most welcome acquisition - particularly as it has being going for some very high prices on ebay and such like. The condition is absolutely pristine and it is the Salamander edition rather than the later book club version. The pictures of ships covering 1860 to 1914 is very inspiring and so this will be one to dip into for inspiration should I need any....;-)

From the same seller I also acquired a copy of Dog Boats at War - Royal Navy D class MTBs and MGBs 1939 - 1945 by Leonard Reynolds. Coastal forces naval games are something I would like to try at some point and certainly there is plenty of 'kit' available and rules available for this 'up close and personal' form of combat (although I would probably make my own....;-) The book covers operations in home waters and the Mediterranean and includes a large number of pictures and maps, technical specifications and orders of battle etc.

The price of these two combined was £6 which is a pretty good deal to kick off the season with!

I also picked up a goody bag from a guy that was just packing up to leave in the shape of an Airfix Roman Fort and a copy of their Fort Sahara - together with an unopened pack of Ancient Britons, some French Foreign Legion and Arabs, two packs of plastic rod and three 75mm metal figures (all the same) of what can only be described as a stylised 19th century idea of what a ancient Gallic Warrior would look like! I am not sure what I will do with these although there are some very good figure painters at the club that could probably find a use for one of them. This bag of bits came to £5 which for the plastic rod alone was good value - the other bits I will either find a use for or will offload at some point. The Foreign Legion and Arab figures do look very nice though.....

This little lot will go some way towards making up for the fact that I had completely forgotten about the Skirmish Toy and Plastic Soldier show in Kent today and so have missed it!

Saturday 12 March 2011

"These Beams are made for Walking.....

...And that's just what they'll do...." (with apologies to Nancy Sinatra!)

No modelling activity this week despite my announced intention to make a further 14 models for the ACW project. This morning however has changed all that - my special order from Peter Pig of a pack of 'walking beams' has arrived which will enable me to make at least four models that featured them. This means that the Rayleigh shipyard will be going back into production this evening - as well as preparing the first batch of models for painting. I have even managed to get a substantial amount of work completed on the second draft of my rules set for the collection as well as discussing matter fort related with SteelonSand after his magnificent model of Fort Humpter featured on his blog.

All in all then, busy, busy, busy with not so much as a whiff of glue all week!

Thursday 10 March 2011

That Warm and Fuzzy Feeling....

....When something just seems to click.

Following on from my earlier post concerned with my having to abandon the ACW naval rules I have been working on in their original form I am now very to announce that the revised version merely need the ship specifications added and they will then be ready to play test. They are simple yet challenging and look very much like a good fit as a bolt on to Battle Cry which was what I had intended all along. At the present time they cover two sides of A4 and will not need any written record keeping either (which is a bonus as far as I am concerned!).
I am really glad I stepped away from the original set and gathered my thoughts on the subject as this latest set is a whole closer to what I wanted to achieve than the other set. Like the models I have made, they will probably offend the purist but I offer no apologies for that and that is one of the great things about our hobby - the sheer variety of approaches to a common subject.
Variety is the spice of life so they say!

'Of Matters Wind and Water Related....'

At the club last night I took part in a most enjoyable Napoleonic Naval game organised and umpired by the redoubtable Mr Fox - who also very kindly supplied the beautifully detailed models from his collection. The rules are a fast play set that first appeared in a magazine and have benefited from some in house tweaking, again under the tender mercies of Mr Fox. The action was based on an incident from the Seven Years War and featured a French squadron, having broken out from Toulon being intercepted by the Royal Navy. All but one of the French vessels managed to escape with the lost ship gallantly engaging the pursuing British and gaining valuable time enabling the remaining ships to head unscathed for the dubious delights of Brest. The highlight of this action was the harrying of the British by the two French frigates - they kept to the naval tradition of not firing at all so the British 'gentlemen' would not stoop to such underhanded behaviour as to engage them - actually 'harrying' should be better translated as 'getting in the way of'! Whilst all this was going on the rest of the French squadron, contrary to the usual 'death or glory' instincts of its commander (aka me!), sailed serenely off into the sunset having not fired a shot all evening!

It was great fun and many thanks to Mr Fox for laying the game on and to the participants for making it such an enjoyable evening.

As a naval gaming period the 'wind and water' era of course has much to commend it. I would love to tackle something from this period but could not ever see me emulating the superb models Mr Fox has built - fully rigged I hasten to add - unless I could come up with a scratchbuilt alternative. I have mentioned that the next phase of the ACW naval project would see me tackling models with masts and spars and so should this work out I may well revisit this at some point. I am sure I have seen a chapter in a naval wargaming book describing how to scratchbuild an man of war from the sailing era so should any reader have a copy of the same then I would really appreciate a scan or copy of the same.

Tuesday 8 March 2011

"Once More Unto the Breach, Dear Friends...."

I have made a mistake: pure and simple. I had thought I had managed to cover all the bases, or rather models for the first part of my ACW building project and was feeling, to be honest, pretty pleased with myself. Only one small detail was overlooked. I had forgotten about the three Union timberclads - Tyler, Lexington and Conestoga. This is itself was bad enough but I then suddenly remembered about the ships with 'walking beams' - some of these were included in the Confederate River Defence Fleet and so could not easily be ignored. Then of course there was the additions to the city class gunboats for the Union (this will mean I have built the class!) and while I was about it, what about a few more cotton clads for the Rebels; just to even things up a little?
The order for the walking beams is in with Peter Pig and yours truly now has a building list of around another 14 models! These will be built whilst I am painting in any event so they will not be too distracting. These models would have been included in the Gulf expansion when I got around to it so I guess making them now makes more sense in the long run as it means the river section will be complete - from my intended campaign perspective this will be a big advantage.
Secretly I am pleased to be doing this as I have been suffering from balsa wood withdrawal symptoms in any event!
I am wondering if the dog is wagging the tale or vice versa....;-)

A Moment of Pure Indulgence

This is going to be a piece of pure self-indulgence and for no tangible reason other than the fact that I really like the look of the vehicle in question. I am of course talking about the Airfix kit of the Vickers Light Tank seen in the picture above. I have acquired a pair of these because I really fancied making up a kit again and the subject is an unusual one to be sure - a world away from the more usual Tigers, Panthers and later war kit. I had promised myself I would tackle a vehicle kit once the first batch of ACW ships had been built so these two models will fit in nicely between ironclad painting sessions.
I am not sure what I will use the end results for although I seem to recall Donald Featherstone featuring a 1930's punitive North West Frontier expedition in one of his books (I am not sure which one so if any readers can help in this respect I would appreciate it!) so that may be an idea. I am not sure what figures I could use for this; nor is my knowledge of the period sufficient for the task but that minor consideration has never usually stopped most wargamers I know of from flying off on a new project!
There is also the old standby of the desert in WW2 or even the campaign against Vichy in Syria - Vickers Light Tanks and Renault FT 17s - whats not to love?
Joking aside I am not intending taking this anywhere at the moment other than to enjoy the exercise of making up the kits but as to the future, who knows?

Monday 7 March 2011

A Sharp Intake of Breath at the Backwards, Forwards Step

When I first embarked on this project I was quite happy to draft my own rules to use with the models on my Hexon terrain. The rationale behind this was that I wanted a set of naval rules that mirrored as far as possible the mechanics employed in the Command and Colours ACW game Battle Cry. A casual conversation with Bob Cordery at Skirmish last year led to both of us devising sets of rules based on a fusion of ideas from both Battle Cry and Memoir 44 called - after Bobs excellent idea - MoBaS or Memoir of Battle at Sea. These were not so much a collaboration - more like an idea that went in two very different directions.

My own 'spin' on this era has taken on the size of the proverbial camel (being a mouse designed by a committee!) and as a result is very far removed from the elegant simplicity of Battle Cry. With this in mind I have taken the conscious decision to scrap my existing set of rules (currently awaiting a play test) and go back to the drawing board with a much simpler set.

At this point I should take my hat off to Bob C as he is a very experienced rules writer and developer and after a brief email exchange generously acknowledged the sense behind my decision to redraft the ACW rules into something a little more in keeping with my original intention. I had been guilty of falling into the trap of assuming that writing a simple set of rules would be, well, simple. The rules for the ACW naval project have proven to be anything but as I think I have consistently 'over-egged' the pudding and have absorbed additional levels of complexity where I did not need to.

Stepping away from the rules for a few days showed me the path, so to speak and so the next set (which are actually very close to a first draft) will be much simpler and will sit alongside Battle Cry far more easily. I want the rules to occupy no more than two sides of A4 BUT I have bitten the bullet so to speak and so the rules will feature ship charts, albeit in a very simple form.

More to follow as and when the rules are at the draft stage and I will try and get some games in for the blog if I am able. Even if my own ships are not ready there are plenty of models available amongst the denizens of the club t be able to run a test or two.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Project Footnotes or Planning for the next phase!

Having gotten to the end of the first phase of my ACW scratchbuilding project I have already started the planning for the second phase - mainly in order to save time when I get around to the construction as the ideas are still fresh in my mind. Off the bat I can think of at least a dozen models - some monitors to begin with, some 'walking beam' ships, the three Union timberclads, a few more Confederate gunboats and a selection of ships with masts and spars. The sailing ship angle will be a mini project all of its own as I am hoping that should the building technique work out correctly then the potential will be there for forays into many other periods.

For the meantime though, my thoughts and efforts will be towards getting the existing 36 ships painted and into action. Once that is done I shall be stepping ashore for some land based projects as I have been afloat for a long time now (what with the Balkan Fleets and the WW2 War at Sea project) and fancy a change.

Saturday 5 March 2011

107 Days, 36 ships and around £35 later....

The USS Tuscumbia (left) and the USS Chillicothe (right) on patrol.

Pictured above are the last two models of the first phase of my ACW naval scratch building project - the USS Tuscumbia and the USS Chillicothe. Historically they were hastily built and suffered badly from 'hogging' so in order to strengthen the hull the large awning type features were added and several large beams and chains helped to alleviate the problem. The latter of the two models - the Chillicothe - should probably be a little longer but she fits in nicely with her near sister, the Tuscumbia.

The Union Ram Fleet heading for Memphis.

The Union gunboats moving up in support of the Ellet Rams.

I am now at the stage where I can plan the painting of this lot and the collection breaks quite nicely into four batches, each of nine ships. This will be the last time the models will be seen in their 'just built' condition and as mentioned previously, I do not intend posting any pictures until they are all painted, so as not to lose the mass effect.

I have enjoyed this project enormously and would like to thank everybody for their ideas and support during the building phase - as ever this encouragement has given me the impetus to cross the finishing line when I might have easily given up!

Friday 4 March 2011

A Navy: Gone With the Wind....

Confederate Gunboats on patrol

Above are the three cotton clad gunboats I have built for the Confederates - they are the last ships I am building for the South in this current batch of models. I have built them using my usual technique for side wheel steamers with the only difference being the 'arrow head' style superstructure rather than the more common 'cheese wedge'. This means that the Confederates can field 9 casemate ironclads and 9 assorted ram/gunboats types. When complete the Union will have a similar composition but numbers are deceptive as the Rebels will never have more than one or possibly two ironclads on the table at the same time whereas the Union routinely used squadrons of gunboats.

The deck guns are, as usual, from Peter Pig and they really make the models stand out - I am looking forward to giving these their coat of paint in due course.

The ships of the Confederate River Defence Fleet - a selection of cotton clad rams and gunboats.

I have said many times that I have really enjoyed the building aspect of this project and this continues to be an undeniable fact. So much so, that I will be sorry to take a break from construction when the last two Union ships are finished! I have a number of other building projects under consideration but once these are completed I plan to 'go ashore' for a while and work on some land based stuff for a change.

I will post a fleet review of all 36 models before the paint job commences and this will be the last time they will be seen in their natural form. I will not be posting any pictures of them whilst they are being painted either - they are designed to be viewed en masse and so showing them off in ones and twos will defeat the object somewhat!

The last 2 models for this phase of the collection are under construction as I was able to cut out and shape the hulls last night. These are the USS Tuscumbia and USS Chillicothe with the former being a large side wheeler of similar size to the USS Benton. I am going to press on to get these two finished for the close of play on Sunday and with three nights to work in should manage this barring any unexpected events.

Wednesday 2 March 2011

CSS Mississippi - What might have been

CSS Mississippi as she might have appeared - complete with 20 gunports and 2 funnels

Last night saw the completion of model number 31 - the unfinished Confederate casemate ironclad: CSS Mississippi. She was being built at the same time as the Louisiana but suffered from the perennial problem of a shortage of skilled manpower to build her. Priority was accorded to the Louisiana in terms of labour and so she was unfinished when the Union forces arrived. She would have been a formidable vessel (at least on paper) but one has to wonder about the sheer waste of resources used on her - not to mention how on earth the South would have manned her, or conjured up the 20 guns she was to have mounted!
The designer hit upon the novel idea of using house building techniques to build her reasoning that there were more timber house building experts than ship builders and so she was quite angular in appearance. This is noticeable in the sharp lines of the bow and the stern. The top view of the CSS Atlanta in a previous post shoes this outline to advantage. She was to mount twin funnels in tandem and so I have incorporated this into the conjectural model above.
As she is, perhaps fittingly, the last casemate ironclad of the current batch I thought I would incorporate a picture of the Confederate heavy metal - I am unsure of the correct collective name for a group of Rebel warships! - and the names I shall be using for these when they are painted and based.

Confederate casemate ironclads of various types - from left to right (top row): CSS Mississippi, CSS Louisiana, CSS Texas and CSS Columbia. Second row: CSS Arkansas, CSS Tennessee (the first vessel of this name - a 'sister' to the Arkansas but burnt on the stocks whilst under construction to avoid capture in 1862), CSS Baltic and CSS Missouri. The small ship in the foreground is the CSS Manassas.

The next batch of ships will feature some more casemates but the above is sufficient to be going on with. The reason I have incorporated a pair of 'never was-ers' (Mississippi and Tennessee (1) is simply because if I did not then the quantitative advantage the Union would enjoy on the Mississippi would be too great for the purposes of a game. In reality the Louisiana and the Mississippi were both of great concern to the Union command even in their unfinished condition so I am tweaking history slightly to see 'what if?'.

The final three Confederate gunboats are now under construction - I cut the hulls and started on the superstructures last night. I would like to carry on building models for this (and fully intend adding to the collection in due course) but I need to get some paint on the models and get a return in gaming time for the investment of modelling effort!