Saturday 30 April 2011

Putting the Cotton in Cotton Clad

I am currently building the last three ships for the Confederates - the CSS Governor Moore, CSS Stonewall Jackson and a further gunboat. The two named ships were cotton clad and all the pictures I have seen of them show the bales of cotton stacked around the superstructure. How on earth do I best represent this effect? My thinking at the moment is along the lines of using Miliput and scoring the pattern on the surface or I could take the easy way out and paint the effect. To be honest, I am leaning towards the former as I think it will take the paint quite well. the trick will be to get the 'bales' looking the right size and relatively in scale.

Mercifully the amount of superstructure to be treated thus is quite modest and so I should be able to tackle this tomorrow. That will be the only tricky part of the process, simply because it is an age since I last used Miliput.

Once finished though, that will be numbers 43 through 45 of the collection and my thoughts are already looking towards building the three Union timberclads.

Back to Base(ics) - A Clear Solution

One of the perennial problems for the naval gamer that bases his models (as do I) is that of basing. What material to use, what colour to paint, whether textured or not and if so, with what? - these are all questions that most gamers have had to address at some point. I have lost count of the amount of Humbrol Matt 25 I have used over the years and you can always guarantee that whatever shade or technique you finally opt for - the first time you have a game the playing surface will be a different colour!

I had considered for the ACW collection using my old standby of artists mounting card painted with Windsor and Newton Cobalt Blue (it is very close to the colour of the Hexon tiles I have) but have had a change of heart. I am going to use clear plastic card. The reason for this is that quite simply it removes at a stroke one of the phases in the modelling process and more importantly, it will not matter one iota what colour blue the playing surface is! The only downside I can foresee is that waves and wakes will be missing but these could easily be added to the base - it is funny that whatever colour the sea appears the waves and wakes are always white! Another advantage is that I will be able to round the corners off of the base so should the model be dropped (perish the thought!) the corner will not be bent.

I will post some results when I have got to this stage and you will be able to see the effect.

Friday 29 April 2011

General Bragg - Reloaded

Readers of this blog following my ongoing ACW naval collection will no doubt recall my continual wittering about masts and spars and how I have been agonising over the best way of making them. I have tried numerous experiments with cocktail sticks which have been by and large successful but I have not been that confident with the medium to try it on an actual model. To be honest, I was quite pleased that at the moment and for this part of the project pretty much all the models I was building did not feature masts as such so it was an easy excuse to do without any form of upright - even for flags.

Not any more.

Plastic rod is now the material of choice and to be frank, I don't know why I did not try this a lot sooner. I am using one thickness for the masts and a smaller thickness for the spars and the results are pretty impressive if I say so myself. All I needed to do was to drill a couple of holes and file a small groove on the mast where the spar was to fit and Bingo! Job done.

I have therefore retrofitted the two models of the General Bragg and the results you can see above. I am really pleased with this technique and the implications are for me, profoundly significant. There are a huge number of ideas I have had kicking around involving ships with masts and spars that will now at last have a chance of being realised.

OMG! Flames of War - Firestorm Style

"This will be a tale to tell your grandchildren - and mightily bored they'll be!"

OMG - Operation Market Garden - is without a doubt one of my favourite campaigns of WW2. For me - it had everything - a bold plan, elite troops on both sides, heroic attacks and dogged defence, colourful personalities, German troops ranging in quality from veteran paratroopers to training troops, several very good campaign histories and even a film that was not too bad! Over the years I have gamed this operation using several different boardgames ranging greatly in size and scope from a several thousand counter version down to a little over a hundred or so. These games have always been tense and exciting affairs and true to history, invariably the 1st Airborne is usually overwhelmed as 30 Corps fails to make the all-important breakthrough.

Flames of War is a WW2 gaming system designed for use with their extensive range of 15mm figures and equipment and in addition to the rulebook there are loads of supplements covering many different forces and campaigns. I should point out that I have not used their rules at all although the 15mm kit appears to be of a very high standard. The company seems to work in a similar fashion to Games Workshop and I suppose for that reason alone I have tended to steer clear of it which is probably doing it a great injustice! I am not averse to using GW kit but I find the whole 'Games Workshop Hobby' idea a little overpowering and can see many similarities in the way FOW is evolving. Enough of my cynical rambling though and on with the review in hand!

Flames of War have released two boardgames in a series described as Firestorm (I believe) - the first of which covered Operation Bagration in 1944 (the 'Destruction of Army Group Centre') and the second covering Operation Market Garden. Initially I was under the mistaken impression that these games were in fact campaign kits to use with the appropriate range of figures but happily this is not the case. They are in fact very good standalone boardgames that are not only challenging enough to be considered as such in their own right but could also be used as the basis for a miniatures based campaign.

The map board covers all of the campaign theatre (the picture shows just one of the three panels) from the border to Arnhem itself and movement is by area of which there are 60. The terrain in an area can obviously have an impact on any combat fought therein. Twenty of the ares are objectives and points are awarded for their capture.

The game pieces are little gems - they are moulded in hard plastic and there are 18 assorted pieces for the Germans and 28 for the allies. The Germans get the following:  2 x King Tiger, 1 x panther, 1 x Panzer 4, 5 x 88mm, 2 x half track, 2 x Fallschirmjager, 4 x security and an FW 190. The Allies get 5 x Sherman, 3 x Sexton, 4 x British/Polish paratroopers, 3 x British Infantry, 3 5.5" gun, 2 x US Glider Infantry (Jeeps), 6 x US Paratroopers and a pair of Typhoons. There is also a sheet of cardboard counters, some d6 and 6 Battle Arrows used for deciding the forces used in a battle. The game comes with only two scenarios - the historic operation and a 'free' version in which the allies can decide where to drop what. I should point out that the German King Tiger, 88mm and Security pieces do not always represent what the piece depicts. When these pieces are selected for combat the German rolls a dice and the score tells the commander exactly what troops he will using from pure security troops to SS or 88mm guns to Jagdpanthers (via Stugs) or King Tigers to Stugs via Tigers or Flammpanzers. A neat game mechanic to ensure that the German player never knows what he will be using.

Supply lines are important as is the resupply of the airborne troops and this is handled very easily by the use of card counters. The combat arrows hold up to 4 units and the troops used add their combat bonus to the roll of the dice to determine the victor. The difference in scores is then used to see what roll would be needed to destroy the enemy units so a player could win a battle only to see the losers pull back to return to the fray later.

The rulebook is a work of art with a useful historical guide and plenty of examples of play together with the inevitable adverts. the eye candy is very inspiring though!

This is a simple game with a lot of potential - especially if used in conjunction with a simple set of tactical rules - and I am thinking of something like Bob Cordery's Morschauser set as this fits in nicely with the level of complexity of the game itself. Alternatively, the tactical rules themselves could form the basis of something similar bearing in mind that we are not specifically concerned with an ultra-detailed tactical game.

As ever, much to ponder but in any event, it is a great addition to the collection and I shall certainly look out for the Operation Bagration game and any further ones they might bring out in the future.

Thursday 28 April 2011

What the Well Dressed Blogger is Wearing this Season

First of all a small apology is in order as my two nominations for this most prestigious of awards were in fact received a few days ago but rather embarrassingly I was unable to post the links onto the blog entry as I had intended. It turns out that I have been using an older version of the blog drafting facility! This has now been rectified so my entries will now be more up to date in how they are entered.

It is always nice to receive an award - even as a piece of fun - and so I am delighted to thank both El Grego over at Mini Ship Gaming and my old Antipodean friend Tas at  the Man Cave for their nominations.

The Stylish Blogger Award Rules

The award rules are:

Thank and link back to the person (or persons) who nominated you this award.

Share seven things about yourself.

Nominate ten to fifteen great bloggers.

Contact these bloggers and tell them about the award!

7 Things about myself

1. The first ever plastic model I can remember making on my own was a Revell Polikarpov I-16 - it was a glue smeared disaster!
2. I was born on the Isle of Sheppey and lived a stone's throw from the former Royal Naval dockyard at Sheerness.
3. I am a huge admirer of T.E. Lawrence and visited his grave near Bovington some years ago (I am planning to do the same later this year - as well as the Tank Museum and his cottage at Clouds Hill).
4. Despite my passion for all things naval I have never been aboard HMS Belfast despite working about 5 minutes away from her!
5. I enjoy anything associated with the history of the Middle East - especially Turkey.
6. When I left school I wanted to join the RAF and went through the air crew selection process at Biggin Hill - I did not get through.
7. I am a frustrated writer - with a half finished novel awaiting some attention as well as my 'Blovel' - having a netbook has been a real help with this!
The list of blogs I could nominate will probably not contain any great surprises and so, in time-honoured tradition and in no particular order, the blogs are as follows:
1. Wargaming Miscellany My old friend Bob Cordery - if you have not read this then do yourself a huge favour and do so - it is quite simply inspiring and vastly entertaining!
2. SteelonSandBlog  For anything small scale this is a great read and is always chock full of pictures etc and some stunning modelling of the 'how on earth has he done that?' variety.
3. Balkan Wargamer For anything Balkans related this is worth a look and BalkanDave really knows his stuff.
4. the Man Cave  Madness and mayhem - Antipodean style! A great read and lots of laughs with some great reviews and some really off the wall stuff.
5. Mini Ship Gaming El Grego and his life and times - thought provoking and very good on 'what I am doing and where I am up to so far' kind of topics. Not prolific but well worth the read.
6. Don't Throw Bloody Spears At Me! Lots of varied and intersting stuff ranging from naval through the Sudan via WW1 and much more besides.
7. Geordie's Big Battles Great battle reports and some lovely eye candy - the naval pictures are always very well done.
8. Megablitz and more  Tim Gow and his world - lots of Megablitz stuff and much more besides - I especially like the Command and Colours games he fights using figures.
9. Yours in a White Wine Sauce! My old friend Tas again - devoted to VSF in all its glory and as a matter of personal note - the first blog I ever contributed to.
10. The Single Handed Admiral Peter Douglas with his naval blog which I am watching with extreme interest - nice one Peter - thanks for the Ironclads in Action link!
11. Bleaseworld Mr Blease and his many and varied wargaming adventures - always good to drop by at.
So there you have, probably not many surprises in that list but each and every one of them has given me much enjoyment over the time I have been in the blogging world and long may they continue to do so.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

The Last of the Confederates

I have just cut out the hulls of the last three Confederate ships for my ACW river collection. These are two 'walking beam' ships - the CSS Governor Moore and the CSS Stonewall Jackson. Both of these were rams and the Governor Moore especially is a large ship. The other ship will be another cotton clad gunboat. They will be fairly easy to put together although representing the bales of cotton used for the 'armour' will be a challenge. That will then leave me with the three Union timberclads - Tyler, Conestoga and Lexington and finally a pair of stern wheelers for the Union ram fleet. At the 11th hour though, I have been quite tempted by the prospect of making two copies of the ironclad Eastport - one for each side as she did serve in both navies.

I still think that 50 will be enough though - for the time being anyway.....;-)

Monday 25 April 2011

ACW Ships on the Eastern Front when King George Commands and We Obey....

Pictured above are the first two 'walking beam' ships for my ACW collection. The model in question is my representation of the General Bragg and as with the earlier General Price, I made two copies of her - one for the Union and one for the Confederates. The walking beam assembly comes from Peter Pig and is available in a pack of 8 as a special order. The guns are also from Peter Pig and have proven to be an absolute godsend. In respect of her overall dimensions she is a little on the small size and comes out around 3/8th of an inch too short but having said that, still looks a reasonable model. I had debated on whether or not to add masts to her but decided that it would not be keeping with the standard of the other models and so the temptation was resisted. I will have enough to do with masts when I tackle the Gulf end of the project! Both models have been sealed in readiness for the painting and I am hoping to get the last eight models finished over the next week making fifty in all.

Pictured above are the forty models built thus far - sealed, filled and ready to undercoat and paint (at long last!).

As is usual at this time of year I have also been busy on the boot sale front - my last acquisitions were not reported simply because my PC has been in dry dock - and managed todat to acquire some great books for the collection. Rifles by Mark Urban covers the men of the 95th rifles during the Peninsular War and the Waterloo campaign and is similar in style to Fusiliers (covering the Royal Welch Fusiliers during the American War of Independence). That sits very nicely in my Peninsular War and Waterloo library - best of all it is a pristine hardback first edition. Following on from my recent acquisition of five double disc DVDs featuring ten episodes of Sharpe starring Sean Bean (the weekend my PC went into dry dock) this was a very timely and appropriate purchase!

The episodes covered are:

Sharpe' Battle, Sword, Rifles, Eagle, Mission, Revenge, Regiment, Siege, Company and Enemy and not only were these in mint condition but the whole lot only cost me £5!

I also picked up a copy of War of the Century by Laurence Rees which is the book accompanying the BBC TV series of the same name. I do not recall the TV series and am not expecting this to be anything other than a general history but it should be a good read all the same.

The last of the batch of goodies for today was Naval Warfare in the Age of Sail 1756 to 1815 by Bernard Ireland. This is a large format book that covers exactly what it says on the dustjacket - with some lovely large size colour reproductions of selected ships from the era.This little lot came to a mere £7 and have all been duly assigned to their alloted places on the bookshelf.

So not only has the weather been outstanding over the long weekend, I have also managed to acquire some cheap goodies, seen my grandson, had a barbecue, jetwashed the patio, ate three times my body weight in chocolate, tackled a few other DIY jobs, sealed and filled 40 models, built two more, boxed up fifty books for disposal and tidied my home office.

Phew! I think I will go back to work for rest...;-)

Saturday 23 April 2011

The Battle of the Atlantic - Navwar style

My much delayed visit to see my grandson took place today and at SWMBO's request I was instructed to to pay a visit to Navwar whilst the ladies discussed, well, ladies stuff. That is by no means a sexist comment - rather it was an observation that as the only male in the house (apart from the aforementioned grandson) I might like to take advantage of the opportunity offered and visit one of my favourite shops. I suppose that a one year old may be seen by many as being too young to start on the wargamers path but I took it as my grandparental duty to encourage him as far as I was able!

A five minute walk got me to the shop, taking in such familiar sights as the pub the Joker and the legendary Jakes burger bar - home of the famous Jakeburger which is a culinary delight if your blood pressure and arteries can stand the strain! I had gone to the shop clutching a list of ships I would need for my North Atlantic/Arctic 1/3000th set up but came away with something entirely different - and I can happily blame SteelonSand for what took place!

If you recall a couple of posts ago I mentioned that I had met with SteelonSand and that we had exchanged much in the way of metal and wood and that included in this transaction were three packs of 1/3000th convoy type ships. There was a pack of N9009 Rafaela x 2 Dutch Tankers, a pack of N9017 M.V. Kinross x 2 General Tramping vessels and a pack of N1722 HMS Black Swan Sloops x3. I had been toying around with the idea of getting some merchantmen together but until now the big stuff had always taken priority. So, all thoughts of Hood, Bismarck and company have been put on hold for a while as I steamed in (no pun intended!) and acquired a further pack of the Kinross Tramps, 2 packs of N9005 A/B Standard ships x 2 and 2 packs of N9006 F Class Standard ships x2 which means I can field a 15 ship convoy of assorted types for use as the focal point of a game or mini campaign. This was all logical so far but then rhyme and reason went out of the window and I acquired not only a selection of various early war escort vessels but also the opposing U-Boats - and U-Boat tankers!

To go with the aforementioned Black Swan sloops I have two packs of N1516C HMS Walker (the V and W long range escort conversion) x 2 each, two packs of N1719 Flower Class corvettes x 3 each and a pack of N1736 Isles Class Trawlers x 4. The Germans meanwhile weigh in with two packs of N3602 Type VIIc Submarines x 3 each, one pack of M3603 Type IXc Long Range U-Boat x 3 and a pack of N3604 Type XIV 'Milch Cow' type supply U-Boat.

The running of convoys across the Atlantic was a grim and demanding business - far away from the 'glamour' of the big ship battles but every bit as important - if not more so. The cat and mouse chasing of the U-Boats is a difficult undertaking to represent on the table top but by using a gridded surface it should be considerably easier. I have not thought about how to tackle this in respect of rules but certainly getting the kit ready for use will be pretty straightforward because the combatant models are very small indeed and so painting should be easy.

So there you have it - another naval project to contend with although I can justify it by saying that it is really only an extension of what I was going to do anyway!

The photo of the shop above is of course Navwar and has been posted for those folk from across the sea that have ordered models from them but have never been to the premises. It is as small on the inside as well but what a goldmine of inspiration!

Finally, the 40 completed models for my ACW project have been 'sealed' using Woodland Scenics Scenic Cement prior to undercoating and so all in all it has been a pretty good day.

.....and for the record, my Grandson slept through the entire time I was in the shop - perhaps naval is not quite his thing - yet!

Friday 22 April 2011

Peter Pig 1/600th Troop Blocks for the ACW

In my previous post I mentioned that SteelonSand had very kindly donated to the cause some samples of the Peter Pig 1/600th scale troop blocks for use with their Hammerin' Iron range. The selection was a pack of each of the numbers from the range being infantry, infantry skirmishers, cavalry, artillery and command. I did no more than give these a cursory glance last night but I have now had a chance to look at them more closely and I have to say I am very impressed. They are roughly 3mm which makes a massive difference compared to the 2mm blocks from Irregular Miniatures. I am very tempted to use these for the land component of my ACW riverine collection and with this in mind I may experiment with painting them to see how they come out. My previous ideas for the land based kit involved using such things as matchsticks as lines of infantry but these models are so good that if my painting works out OK then some serious thought as to their future role may well have to be considered.

Then of course there is the samples of Oddzial's 3mm ACW troops which are on a completely different level all together - fuller details of which can be found on SteelonSands's blog so drop by and take a look - if you have not done so already then you will be staggered by what he has achieved with these (and other) smaller models.

Oh well, there goes another project for the 'to do' list!

Thursday 21 April 2011

A Very Great Pleasure

One of the greatest pleasures to be had within our hobby is the ability to be able to discuss ideas and projects with kindred spirits - be it at the club, at a show or more commonly, via the net. It is a further pleasure when a net based series of communications, blog posts or emails, morph into an actual face to face meeting. This happened to me this evening as I met up with none other than SteelonSandBlog for a chat and a beer. SoS's work is a positive delight to peruse as he specialises in the smaller scales - 2 or 3mm and such like and his blog is a treasure trove of ideas for use with these most diminuitive of scales . I have taken much inspiration from his posts and so it was real pleasure for me to meet him in the flesh and to 'chew the gaming fat' so to speak.

The conversation was stimulating and we covered a wide variety of gaming topics and projects and shall certainly repeat the exercise when possible in the future. There was an exchange of goodies and I was delighted to receive a selection of 3mm ACW kit (very useful for my ACW project), some 1/3000th scale WW2 merchantmen and escorts (very handy as I will be hitting Navwar on Saturday!), some buildings (from the Town in a Bag range) and a Hexon 3 hex hill - which will be very useful for my various hex based projects (probably with an ACW fort on it!).

It was a great evening, albeit too short but with the very tangible benefit of putting a face to the author of one of my favourite blogs. Many thanks to SteelonSand for taking the time out to meet up and quoff a beer and I hope the occasion was as inspiring for you as it was for me!

The only downside to the evening was the fact that my train was delayed for 35 minutes due to some signalling difficulties but set against the enjoyment of the previous hour or so it was but a minor irritation!

Armies of the Balkan Wars 1912 - 13 (MAA 466)

Hurrah! I have recently acquired the new Osprey title on the Balkan Wars by Philip S. Jowett and it is very nice indeed. The plates have a good selection of the troop types involved in the two wars and the black and white pictures are helpful as well. The author acknowledges a book that I will have to try and source - Balkan Wars 1912-13 published by Kedros Publishing although sadly unless it is English it may not be suitable as my Greek is limited to 'dumbed down holiday phrase book' standard!

The only downside is that the pictures all confirm (or rather reinforce)the fact that the 15mm Irregular Miniatures Bulgarian infantryman is in fact wearing the wrong tunic for the period. He is wearing one of those Russian pattern side fastening types rather than the more normal centre buttoned version. You could possibly disguise this with a careful paint job but it is noticeable on most of the models. Irregular Miniatures are pretty good at correcting this sort of thing so I will drop them a line and see what happens. It does mean though that the Balkan Wars project is now back on to an extent - the existing Bulgarians I own could just about pass muster given the chronic uniform shortages faced by the combatants but I would prefer to use a more appropriate figure.

The Turks are fine though - the resrve troops will look very noticeable alongside the regulars in their dark blue uniforms with a red fez The chap in the red tunic comes from the Italian Legion serving with the Greek army which adds a further dash of colour - as do the various Albanian and Macedonian guerilla types; festooned as they usually were with all sorts of weapons - the epitome of the veritable walking arsenal!

Merit Trees, Hedges and Walls

A casual conversation at the club last night with Mr. Bryson has located a source of the aforementioned trees, hedges and walls, and in quantity. Laurie's shed has been described like the wargaming equivalent of Area 51 (with additional spiders!) and he is convinced that the said items are in fact lurking in the depths of the said storage facility. This has also been independently verified and over the weekend he and Mr. Slater will be attempting to locate and rescue these items with a view to an exchange of some kind. Apparently there are other delights lying hidden and long forgotten in there as well and so the exploration may throw up some other goodies.

I am really pleased by this as it means I will be able to press ahead with my Command and Colours 3d representations - both for the Napoleonic era (using the blocks) and for WW2.

Monday 18 April 2011

SEEMS (South East Essex Military Society) Wargames Club

It has finally happened! SEEMS - my wargames club - has finally been dragged screaming and kicking into the 21st century and now has a blog all of its own.

The intention behind the blog is to highlight the club's activities - the regular Wednesday evening sessions and the display games for the most part - and to hopefully attract some attention from potential new members.

It can also be used to club related updates and announcements and will hopefully feature any snippets of hobby related news that may be worthy of attention.

Please feel free to drop by and take a look from time to time and to offer any comments and suggestions - after all, SEEMS like a good idea!

Friday 15 April 2011

Ironclads in Action with Warfleets of Antiquity

No, this is not some kind of alternative history type wargame I am describing (tempting though it may be!) rather it refers to a couple of items I now have in my collection - one permanently, the other on loan.

Ironclads in Action 1855 - 1895 by H.W. Wilson was originally published in 1898 and I can describe it no better than by using the text from the back cover:

"This work, published in 1898, is a narrative history of the various naval campaigns and battles of that period. It covers the ACW, various South American wars and civil wars, the Crimean, Franco-Prussian, Austro-Prussian-Italian, Austro-Prussian-Danish, Russo-Turkish and Sino-Japanese wars, French and British colonial actions (Alexandria, Sfax etc), and includes chapters on the development on the development of the ironclad and on famous disasters involving ironclads."

The version I have acquired is made up of 13 A5 booklets published by Pallas Armata and copyright 1993 although it has been published in hardback in two volumes (Mr Fox has this version). Wilson wrote a follow up covering dreadnought actions but this stops firmly in 1895. The text contains a number of maps and technical details appear throughout the narrative. I am really pleased to have acquired this set as it gives me a whole lot more detail around the naval actions of the period during an era of enormous technological change.

The second title (and this is kindly on loan from Mr Hardman) is Warfleets of Antiquity by R.B. Nelson and published by WRG way back in 1974. This is an old school WRG title covering exactly what it says on the cover and follows the typical WRG template of ship types , tactics and campaigns from the ancient Greeks and Romans up to around the 8th century AD. Ancient naval has not been my thing really but my interest in galleys (the 16th century variety) has taken a chronological step back and so this book is a good starting point. There are numerous sets of rules and models available (although I would make my own) so it may be one to look at in the future. My thanks to Mr Hardman for allowing me to borrow this piece of wargaming history and I promise to look after it!

Thursday 14 April 2011

"My Name is (General) Earl (Van Dorn)"

Pictured above is the latest addition to the ACW naval collection - the CSS General Earl Van Dorn. She differs slightly from the other rams in that she is wedge shaped at both ends of the superstructure rather than just forward. She also represents model number 40!

The final version of this model is very slightly different to the picture as I realised I had made the paddle boxes too large. After a quick piece of precision sawing they are now about 1/8th of an inch lower.

Production has been down slightly over the past few weeks - suffice it to say that aside from any gaming distractions (C and C Napoleonics and Battletech to name just two) there has also been a couple of ongoing real life dramas that have obviously had to take priority. Hopefully I will be able to address this in the run up to the cycle of bank holidays we are coming to.

Onwards and upwards though!

Wednesday 13 April 2011

"Picture This,"....(and no, it's not a Blondie moment!)

I was having a little tidy up in the photos section of my PC before it goes into dry dock at the weekend and I was amazed to see just how many pictures I had taken not only my scratchbuilds but also downloaded from the net and used to illustrate many of my posts. Pretty much most of these have come Wikipedia although a few have been copied from various specific sites. I also made use of the really nice pictures contained in the Thoroughbred Model catalogue - I actually used some of these as my desk top wallpaper whilst I was building the model in question as inspiration. Of course, the most important pictures that are missing are those featuring the models painted and in action and I am hoping to rectify this over the succession of long weekends we have coming up - Easter, the Royal Wedding and the Mayday bank holiday.

At the risk of repeating myself (and simply because I was so pleased at how she turned out!) the picture above came out of my newly organised ACW archive and is of the fearsome Confederate casemate ironclad, the Louisiana.

Sunday 10 April 2011

My Name is Earl...(Van Dorn)....or Something to Bragg about....

Well actually it isn't but you get the the drift! The next batch of models for the ACW naval project are nearing completion and the CSS General Earl Van Dorn is one of them. There are also two copies of the Genera Bragg (one Confederate and one Union - after they had captured her! She features in the picture above) and also a CSS Stonewall Jackson. I just need to fit these out and they will be ready for use taking the total of models up to 43. The final 7 models have been tweaked slightly - mainly because of the fact that I needed to make a couple of stern wheelers for the Ellet Ram fleet so there will be two of these, the three Union timberclads and another couple of Confederate gunboats.

I think I have now got my my ACW naval 'mojo' back after a very thin couple of weeks on the building front caused by multiple distractions!

The Whimsical Notion of an Old School Imagi-Nation

I am sure that most wargamers of a certain age are familiar with both Charge! and The Wargame, written by Peter Young and James Lawford for the former and Charles Grant for the latter. I am no exception to this and have fought some truly epic actions using these rules 'back in the day'. I would dearly like to revisit these rules at some point in my life but unless a very large lottery win comes along it is sadly never going to happen - I would not be disciplined enough to start and finish such a huge project in the meantime and so it is pointless for me to even consider such an undertaking. 48 figure infantry and 24 figure cavalry regiments would be an enormous commitment in anybodies language unless you had acres of space, years of free time and a bank balance the size of Roman Abramovitch! Unless you could find a very cheap source of figures that would be simple to paint (18th century lace and finery is very much a step too far for my modest painting skills!) then in my opinion it would be a non-starter. Or would it?

Over the course of the last year or so I have acuired three complete sets of the board game Risk - the version of which containing some generic looking late 18th century hard plastic infantry, cavalry and artillery. This is the second version of the game to feature historical figures (I am not including the Star Wars and Lord of the Rings variants in this) and the current version is far better than the first - mainly because the infantrymen is standing up rather than kneeling at the ready. The only problem with these is that they are scaled at roughly 12mm which means a problem arises when you want to acquire such things as metal command groups. I had a look at some Pendraken 10mm AWI figures but whilst they are nice they look too small alongside the plastic figures. I need therefore, to find a manufacturer of small 15mm figures - preferably from an American War of Independence range as the style of the figures are closest to the third quarter of the 18th century.

This is most certainly not a new project - in fact it is not even a project at all at the moment - and my search is purely to see if this is feasible in the long term. I am confident though that at some point in the time the battles between the Electorate of Kronenberg (founded in 1664) and the Grand Duchy of Artois will come to pass.

Xiangqi - Chinese Chess

I am pretty sure that most wargamers have played chess at some pint in their gaming career. Indeed, I remember reading somewhere that a wargame could be described as 'chess with a thousand pieces'. Aside from the usual version there are a number of national variants or, in the case of the Chinese, a completely different game and this is Xiangqi - Chinese Chess. I have wanted to try this for many years but never got around to it so I was delighted to have been able to acquire a set at our local 'lazybones' boot sale (so called because it does not start until 10:30am) for the princely sum of £1. The game comes complete with 16 hardwood playing pieces for each side and with the playing area is marked out on a cloth (in China it is often played on paper) with the whole being stored in an attractive wooden box. Each army consists of 5 soldiers, 2 chariots, 2 cannon, 2 horses, 2 mandarins, 2 elephants and a general. The playing area uses a point to point movement system and the board is separated by a central river (lots of those in China!) and each side has a fortress on their side of the board.

I was particularly struck by the point to point movement system and am wondering if that could be applied to a conventional figure based game in some way. I have certainly seen it used for boardgames - Columbia Games 'Napoleon' covering the 1815 campaign being a case in point. For this game all movement runs from village to village with combat being assumed to occur 'on the road' between said villages.

An unusual acquisition to be sure but one that I shall enjoy experimenting with in due course.

Saturday 9 April 2011

The Dam Busters - A British Cinema Classic

During a very hectic Saturday of the usual domestic round SWMBO and I managed to find time to visit one of the two local Saturday boot sales. Whilst we were there I was delighted to acquire an unused copy of the DVD of the film The Dam Busters. This was being sold on a stall supporting a local children's hospice and so I probably spent slightly more on this than I would have usually - you can buy this new very cheaply in any event - but it was in a shrinkwrap and so in pristine condition.

I doubt if there is any wargamer on the planet that is not familiar with the story of 617 squadrons raid on the Ruhr dams - certainly the film has been shown countless times and the theme tune is a classic in its own right.

I am sure I read somewhere that Peter Jackson - of the 'Lord of the Rings' film trilogy - was planning a remake of the film but I am unsure how well founded that is. Although the special effects of such a remake would be undoubtedly far superior to the original I am convinced that it would never capture the essential 'Britishness' of the 1954 version.

A true classic indeed.

Friday 8 April 2011

Merit Railway Accessories - An Impossible Task?

The company name I was struggling to recollect in my recent post about terrain was of course Merit. This information was provided by Bob Cordery for which many thanks are duly given. I must confess to not realising these were quite to long in the tooth; harking back to the 1950's as they do. I have seen a couple of sets kicking around on eBay and suspect that this may be the best place to acquire any from although checking out some model railway shops may be worthwhile. My experience of these shops (I am referring to the individual retailers - the 'one man bands' so to speak, as opposed to the chain stores) is that quite often they may have some ancient stock lurking in a forgotten corner somewhere so I shall make a point of trying this out as and when I am able. There is also a large model railway show held in Southend later in the year which may also yield some results.

In any event the acquisition of some Merit scenery will not be a simple task and so I shall need to decide at what point I will abandon the attempt and buy something more up to date and easily available.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

ACW Rules and a Revised Revision....

Whilst tinkering with my homegrown ACW River Action Rules - which are ready to playtest just as soon as I finalise the specifications for the combatants - I was struck by how easily the basic system could be translated into a different era, namely the next one up the timeline - my old favourite of 1890 to 1918. I already have a pretty good set for these (if I say so myself!) that I have drafted for my own use and have successfully used for a few Balkan Wars and WW1 actions. If anything the ACW set is probably closer to what I wanted to achieve for the later era than that which I already have. I am tempted then to rework the later set into a direct equivalent of the ACW version in the interest of consistency. I realise that most naval enthusiasts will probably be scratching their collective heads at this - primarily because a warship of 1900 was a very different animal from its 1863 equivalent (especially on the rivers!) - but in respect of my rule mechanics this difference largely disappears. With this in mind I have cobbled together a set based on the earlier ACW version which I shall experiment with. This may not work but I am keen to try the concept - the biggest advantage of which being the greater simplicity in construction of the ship specification tables - in due course. Should this work out (and I cannot see any reason why not which probably means there are a hundred reasons why not!) then I will of course discuss my findings further on the blog. I have managed to acquire the missing material from Modelzone for my ACW models currently under construction and so tomorrow evening will see the building resume in earnest. I also have a cunning plan in connection with stern wheelers (this was giving me a minor headache and no mistake!) - more of which when the order from Screwfix arrives!

Tuesday 5 April 2011

In Serious Terraining....

Despite my wargaming career spanning over 35 years my collection of models is really very small. Over the years I have owned and parted with a number of good sized armies from various periods and have probably shifted several unpainted lead mountains worth of figures. I am guilty of having a short attention span (which is why my ACW naval collection has surprised many people, myself included!) usually and so 'things' drift in and out of my collection like a rolling tide of enthusiasm. I feel as though I am (at last) mellowing in this tendency - hence my preference for small projects that have more chnace of being realised that the great sprawling epics of yesteryear. You know the scenario - 'this bag of 300 unpainted XYZ figures for the war of ABC will be really easy to paint blah, blah, blah and so on and so forth (if you are one of those that can manage that kind of effort then you have my deepest admiration and respect!). It has taken a while and much experimentation (and not a few blind alleys) but I now know pretty much what I can do and how I can best achieve it. My terrain collection has also followed a similar pattern although thankfully not to quite such extreme lengths. I have owned substantial amounts of terrain over the years with portability being the major consideration. This is why the Hexon was such a big deal for me as it was putting the proverbial 'line in the sand' in as far as my terrain aspirations were concerned. In a sense it is a new school solution to an old school problem - seeing a wargame that looks like a game rather than a mobile diorama. I am not keen on super detailed figures and terrain - mainly because I lack the time and inclination to bother attempting such mobile dioramas. I should stress that I have the utmost admiration for those that do go down that path but it is not me. My own collection and those still being planned will be heavily stylised and very 'old school' to look at. In addition to plainly painted figures (a touch of black in the varnish or perhaps even some of that new fangled army painter being my sole concession to modern artistic techniques!) my terrain will be of a similar standard. The 'Town in a Bag' buildings will suffice for most things I am planning; be it the Balkan Wars, WW2 or for use with the Command and Colours Napoleonic Blocks. They are ideal for use with the Hexon terrain tiles and as most of my games now involve a grid of some kind that is not a problem. For hills I intend stacking some of the individual Hexon tiles where needed and waterways and roads will be that old standby of cut felt strips. That leaves me with the old chestnut (no pun intended!) of trees, hedges and walls and how best to represent them. The ideal solution for me would be to find a supply of the trees, hedges and walls from the range that used to be available many years ago from, if I remember correctly, Bellona or even Hornby - the model railway people. I am really not sure of the manufacturer but the trees came in three types - pine trees, poplars and a large bushy deciduous type. These consisted of a trunk and 'layers' of foliage - the whole being made from polythene - that you stacked together. The walls came with some corner sections and were moulded in grey whilst the hedgerows were in green, again, all in polythene. These are quite stylised looking but very 'old school' and I am sure that many gamers of a certain age will remember them. With my preference for a simpler visual look these would fit in very nicely as much of the currently available kit is way too 'realistic' for this admittedly abstract approach. With this thought in mind I shall need to trawl the bring and buys and probably Ebay as these items are my preferred choice for my terrain and I am pretty certain they are no longer available. Failing that, should anybody have any of these items and be willing to sell/trade them please get in touch and lets talk quantities etc. You would be helping to make an old school gamer very happy!

The Netbooking Wargamer

I recently mentioned that I have just acquired a netbook. This came about for a number of reasons the main one being so that I could make better use of my spare time during the working week e.g. I can now write for another 2 to 3 hours a day away from home rather that sitting parked on a PC in the evenings. It has been a little over a week since I acquired the netbook and already I am wondering how on earth I managed without one! I have just discovered the 'publish' function in Office 2007 which allows you to type up a document in Word as a Word file and then publish directly onto a blog as a draft or even the final version. This is really handy for me as it means that while I am travelling with no access to the net I can happily type up a blog entry to be published at the push of a button when I am back in wireless range. Previously I would have to cut and paste from Word and mess about with the formatting etc. I am hoping to use this with Word documents that have tables etc contained within the body of the text e.g. drafts of rules, and if successful I shall be able to publish directly to the blog any such items I have been working on. One to experiment with for sure. This new found typing mobility also means that my much neglected 'blovel - The Sword in the Sand' will finally see some activity as I have a great wad of text waiting to be broken down into instalment sized chunks for posting. Best of all though, the time spent during the working day does not count as time out of the domestic round i.e. at home, so I am hoping to be able to make more effective use of the same in respect of of painting, model making or even gaming - not to mention the necessary interaction with the family!

Monday 4 April 2011

ACW Naval Blips - A Logistical Tale of Woe

One of my intentions over the weekend was to complete the fitting out of the three gunboats and a ram I currently have on the construction table for the Confederates. This never happened for the most simple of reasons. The supply of plastic strip I use for gunports and hatches has been exhausted and I thought I had another packet of the same size in my stores cupboard. I do not possess any sheet plastic of the same thickness to use as an alternative so reluctantly decided to abandon the attempt until after I have visited Modelzone at Holborn later in the week. This was frustrating and so I decided to mark up the hulls for the next four models instead when I discovered that I only had sufficient sheet balsa for another two models so this has now also added to my shopping list. To salvage something from the time I had available I thought it would be a good idea to tackle the rules I have been working on for the period - or rather the ship specifications - only to find that the the most recent version of these is still on my PC at work and I had not emailed it to myself for home editing! All in all then, it was a mildly frustrating experience but I was able to console myself with my experiments with Hexon terrain and Command and Colours Napoleonic blocks (and wishing that they did similar for the ACW - indeed a whole host of other periods!) so the time spent was eventually productive albeit not quite as I had intended!

Sunday 3 April 2011

Instant Napoleonics – Just add Blocks!

Sadly for a variety of reasons my planned visit to Navwar this weekend was postponed and so this will be a pleasure deferred for the time being (it also means I can amass some more funds!). In the meantime though I have managed to get a few gaming related chores tackled – mainly in respect of my plans for Command and Colours Napoleonics. I have managed to solve the block storage problem and am now using one of those multi-compartmented plastic boxes (I had a couple of these kicking around crying out for a use!) for the French and one for the Anglo-Portuguese rather than plastic bags. There is a little spare space in the French box which I am using for the counters and the special combat dice included in the game but this will disappear when the Spanish expansion arrives as there are some additional units for La Grande Armee included.

I was also able to try a little experiment using the unit blocks with my Hexon terrain and the buildings from the 'Town in a bag' set available from Past Times. I wanted to try this because the larger terrain hexes will enable units to adopt more aesthetically pleasing formations – lines, columns and even squares. Skirmish units can also be deployed in a swarm as well which adds to the representation and the look of the thing.

The picture shows a small town covering two hexes and a single hex wood (I will replace the trees with something a little better looking in due course!) with a unit of British infantry with a commander, a light cavalry unit and a battery of horse artillery. I think the result looks pretty impressive, albeit in a purely representational way and so I intend exploring this idea further – to the extent that I will run an actual scenario using this method as soon as I am able. It is not a figure wargame I know but for me it is a viable alternative to painting hundreds of figures and it does not look too bad. Of course I would prefer to use figures but the prospect of acquiring meaningful collections is a daunting one and I am not going to pursue that particular avenue. In fact, I could now safely say that I own a couple of Napoleonic armies – albeit in an abstract fashion!

Friday 1 April 2011

Battletech 25th Anniversary Edition - A Review

I have been and gone and done it and slapped my hard earned cash on the counter of the Orc's Nest over in the West End of London and have acquired a copy of the 25th anniversary edition of this great game. I must confess to being a long time fan of this game system and over the years have owned several versions of it – mainly in the original FASA format. I have been considering for some time a small scale sci-fi set up for ground combat – even going so far as to consider scratch building the vehicles etc for use with the OGE/GEV game system – and this game was one of the two options in contention. A new version of the OGRE game is currently under development so I shall now wait for this rather than attempting the build in the meantime. As an aside this of course now means that I have a construction slot in the timetable for the year (tentatively covering the third quarter) – more of which later.

My previous post on the subject detailed the contents of the box so I will not repeat it; rather I will concentrate on the interesting stuff – the models. With the exception of the two premium quality models made from hard plastic the other 24 are fashioned from a rigid polythene type material which takes both paint and glue pretty well. Some of these have a number of parts and the glue used by the manufacturer does not appear to be much good so I would suggest a little time is spent fixing these in a more permanent fashion. Detail-wise they are adequate, no more. The detail appears to be quite 'soft' which is common on models made from this material although I suspect that a reasonable finish could be achieved by even a modest painter. These models are not new and they previously appeared in the starter edition released a number of years ago (IIRC four or five) which may go some way towards explaining the various casting issues present – minor flash and mould lines – presumably due to the age and condition of the moulds. The metal versions of the 'mechs represented are of course available but obviously they are a lot more expensive. I am not hugely taken with the bases as not only are they too thick they are also not consistent across the models as some of them are quite thin and unobtrusive. I plan to tackle these so they are uniform in both size and thickness but it is a job that could have been avoided in my opinion.

Examples of the old (right and left) and the very nice new (centre). Note the thickness of the bases on the older models.

The two hard plastic models are a country mile better than the other twenty four – so much so that I would be reluctant to use both types on the same side! Interestingly one of the models is in kit form while the other is fully assembled. I wonder if this is a ploy to gauge which approach would be preferable assuming that plans are in place to make more of these in due course. In actual fact I prefer neither approach – a partially completed model with some degree of variety of pose and weapons fit would be my ideal although of the two styles on offer I would opt for the completed version rather than the kit.

Of the rules etc, little need be said – the game has been around for so long that most gamers of the genre are probably familiar with them in one shape or another. The background information for the established Battletech universe is nicely done but probably holds nothing new for the long term enthusiast. The map boards are the welcome card versions and not those horrible paper offerings that seemed to disintegrate after a couple of games. There is a useful painting guide and some tactical hints and tips – including what to do with each of the 'mechs in the game. There is also a nice guide explaining how the game fits into the rules covering the various facets of the Battletech world – I should point out that the rules included are the introductory version and that the full version is available in a, yes you've guessed it, hardback book a la Games Workshop.

Taking all this into account I would have no hesitation in recommending this edition to anyone - £30 to £40 for the 'mechs alone is pretty good value – that has a hankering for some mechanised sci-fi mayhem. The detrimental points are really only minor personal quibbles and I am sure that when the models are suitably painted and based all this will be forgotten.

Mention of painting these leads me into the next point – just what am I going to do with them? I am not a huge fan of the 'multi-coloured swap shop' school of sci-fi model painting as championed by, amongst others, GW with their Warhammer 40K universe. I like my vehicles and troops to look like, well, vehicles and troops – which in my opinion means military type camouflage. I realise that trying to disguise a walking machine three storeys tall may be described as an exercise in futility but that won't stop me from trying! I have a reasonable supply of decals that I can use to 'jazz up' the end result but that will be the only concession I make towards circus style paint jobs.

Initially I had planned to use my Heroscape terrain with the models (including the box full kindly donated by Bob Cordery) but am now leaning towards the Hexon collection as the ranges will look more realistic with the larger hexes and making the terrain will be more rewarding – especially built up areas and some epic style defence installations.

All in all then I am very pleased to be back in the Battletech groove and the change of pace and genre will make a nice change from my usual recent gaming activities. Best of all it will dovetail nicely with the final phase of the ACW construction so my painting skills can get some much needed practise in before I am immersed in ironclads and paddle steamers.