Forward Observer 1

Welcome to Battlegames, and welcome to Forward Observer. Those who have read my writings before will know what to expect. New readers should find a wide ranging mix of discussion, analysis, reviews and news, with an emphasis on history, rule systems, strong opinions and always with a nice paint job. In coming issues I will take a look at new figures, paints, terrain and model releases, trends in period and gaming styles, and of course the many interesting rule sets now in circulation. Generally, I enjoy innovation, and am always looking for quality in all departments.

At the time of writing, I am waiting to see how the editorial stance presents itself. I would be very surprised if we didn’t have more than a touch of Old School sentiment hereabouts, a fine but somewhat nebulous movement that I am sure will be explained by greater minds than mine! Seriously, I have spent much of the last six months enjoying the company of these amiable gamers. They have returned to me a sense of joy and hobby interest that has been depleted for a while. To an extent I had lost sight of the gaming element of the hobby, and most importantly the fun. And then one fine day, the scales fell from my eyes with regard to certain 28mm figures that, let us say, look a bit on the chunky side.

All that said, I don’t agree with everything that the Old Schoolers espouse (there are some odd and frankly concerning views on history and pink uniforms!), so perhaps you can view me as the New School director on the board, keeping an eye on things, maintaining balance, and offering a counter view. A sort of fifth columnist, if you like. For every mention of plain green tables, I will be there with a beautiful terrain piece. For every 60 man unit of marching clones, I will offer a 12 man diorama base. Seriously, the great strength of Old School is that one can take from it only what appeals and then combine it with the existing strengths of a personal hobby. I think the resulting mix will be a positive one for everyone.

One area I definitely hope to cover in depth here is 20mm plastic figures. This buoyant field lives in something of a shadow as far as the hobby is concerned. I know there are lots of fans, and new figure sets appear every month, but there is still that slight snobbery that means a plastic based game at a show is as rare as a famous Belgian. I have to admit I don’t quite understand the plastics market. I am sure it is supported by a mix of wargamers, younger gamers, collectors and converters, and definitely toy soldier fans, but I am still not wholly sure how they sell as many as they do. Best not worry about that too much, and enjoy the amazing output.

Over the last few years, I have been closely following the development of 3D printing. Pay attention at the back there! The idea here is, almost unbelievably, is that you might design a figure in a 3D graphics package, or perhaps scan a subject (yourself, possibly), clothe it, and print it out in 3D. The possible uses of this are only really starting to sink in, and we have to wait for prices to drop, but as a bare minimum we could be seeing figure ranges for cottage industries, one off command figures where you are sitting on the horse, or perhaps just perfect conversion materials. At best, well, I think you can imagine where we might end up. Factor in the drop in price and increase in 2D printer quality over the last decade, and I think we can allow ourselves to dream a little. The title of the column may well be Forward Observer, but in best Tomorrow’s World style this development will still be a good way off for most of us. Nevertheless I find it a fascinating technology and can only look forward to the time when our desktop Epson prints out a unit of grenadiers on demand. Of course, they might still need painting…

Without wishing to generalise, and New or Old School affiliation notwithstanding, I strongly suspect the hobby is getting older. Tums and bums, advancing crankiness and retreating hairlines all lead me to this conclusion. This makes eyesight an increasingly common discussion point at hobby get-togethers. We nod sympathetically as another hobbyist admits defeat. Personally, something weird happened to me in the last three or four years. My eye tests are normal, and there is no change in my prescription, but someone has clearly been tweaking my magnification and focus dials. It’s like borrowing someone else’s binoculars. The most worrying part is looking at Perry or Rackham sculpts. They seem to have shrunk considerably, and I realise I have little hope of doing them justice. 15mms are just scary, especially Xystons. I can see myself investing in some form of magnification device soon. This is unlike a friend of mine who has resisted focal assistance for ages, just possibly on the grounds of vanity, but is now happily painting again with a pair of reading glasses he found on a park bench! I kid you not. Months of procrastination and soul searching, an old biddy gets forgetful after reading her copy of Woman’s Own, and, shazzam!, fate dictates they come to the aid of a painter in need. And they work! What, really, are the chances? Sometimes, it is hard to deny a greater power at work in our lives.

Another point on ageing is that, reluctantly, there comes a time when you realise that all those projects that you have on the horizon, or even have figures bought for, may just never make it to the workbench. The problem is, apart from a few years centring on the Great War, and anything after 1945, I like pretty much everything. This makes temptation and spending worryingly easy, but execution and completion difficult. Like a madman (and I know I am not alone) I have tried to pursue all these periods in varying degrees. But there came a moment, probably when I was packing up my unpainted figures for a house move, that I knew I was spreading myself, and resources, far too thinly. I had to rationalise. For that reason, in the hobby downtime I have experienced recently, I have managed to focus myself down into just ten projects.

If I finish that lot, I will reward myself with a new period, which at the moment would probably be Great Northern War, or Seven Years War. This would be some time after 2025, I suspect. The other projects will have to wait, and the longer they wait, the greater the chance of them being abandoned. Sad, but realistic I feel. And so this is where I find myself. A new house, a new city, room for a gaming table and workbench, or even two. I have some focus (at last) on period interests, I have been re-enthused by Old School gurus, I have enough figures to paint for the next decade, and in Battlegames I have real hopes for a fresh input on my hobby. And there is so much good stuff around these days, it is hard to keep up. Yes, it is one of those big life moments: a new chapter.

Mike Siggins