Forward Observer 10

Double Figures

Hard to believe this is the tenth column, and so the tenth Battlegames. A decent milestone, I think you will agree, and it is already apparent that the magazine has moved well beyond ‘new arrival’ into ‘hobby presence’. I am very pleased that this is the case, and once more a tip of the hat to Henry for getting off his bottom and making an impact. Two more please, Henry, and my binder will be full, and I look forward to many, many more binders on the shelf.

Apology

In my review of Neil Thomas’s introductory book in issue 8, I suggested that Neil did not actually define a wargame. Despite reading and double checking – I distinctly remember doing this – I did in fact miss the definition provided. Apologies to Neil for this. Mea Culpa.

Focus

My conniptions last time, faced with too many period and scale options, have largely subsided. This at least saves Henry doing another table. I got busy at work, which took the deliberation time away; then I sobered up slightly when I did the sums. In other cases friends made my mind up for me; one decided to abandon 20mm WWII and move to 15mm, another got both sides purchased for his 6mm ACW. There were enough AK47 armies around to stage a decent coup, while the mad gaming phase passed as the blazing dog days of Summer (cough, cough) took their toll. It will return. Broadly, the situation is still in flux and while I remain partly at the mercy of others, I am not going to chase anything new until next year when the path may be clearer. However, my 40mm fad remains strong, and I definitely see some mileage in this scale. Not quite sure where yet, but I am enjoying the experimentation.

Ironically then, I am a little more focussed than I was eight weeks ago. Why? A look in my figure chest and deciding it needed to shrink even more, another inspirational visit to Bill Gaskin’s collection, and some new product releases (see below) all provided unexpected clarity. I was also swayed by a pile of 1/48th Tamiya boxes falling on me. Why did I buy that many? In essence, my Big Ten projects (ignoring potential new ones for the moment) have now shrunk down to five or six. The remainder, I have decided, can be satisfied by the simple expedient of painting up one or two units, or perhaps even a few figures or vehicles. With little desire to game the period, I can be happy with representative figures. Elsewhere, where friends are building forces I think we can work a Division of Labour – it seems they are mainly doing both sides so I can just go and play with theirs, and offer the same facility in return. And most of all, I am enjoying my plastic Egyptians – new releases from Caesar and Zvezda have really helped here.

Animation

Phil Olley’s excellent game at Partizan in September drew a lot of admiring glances. It was well up to his usual standard, but this time there was something moving – the windmill, in prime central position, had turning sails. Windy Miller would be very impressed at the rate of rotation, and could doubtless get all his grinding done early in time to settle down with a pitcher of cider. I bow to Phil’s electrical skills, which showed that all those double physics lessons weren’t wasted.

We have seen movement before, notably when the Perries deployed their radio controlled 1/72nd scale Tiger, but it is a rarity. But really, why not? It is a great deal of work, but as I know from my time spent in the model railway hobby there is no better way to engage spectators. Obviously they have the advantage of moving trains, but the scenery (stationary, more often than not) also provides highlights. A classic technique is to provide a list of ten ‘sights’ that the viewer tries to spot – typically a welder’s arc light, a couple courting (does anyone court anymore?), a nudist, a badger, a policeman making an arrest, or a man fishing. One memorable layout, based on Midsomer, had ten different murders about to happen or in progress!

Perhaps we could set up something like this in a display game. One would need to spot the dragoon dismounting, or the howitzer, the cart with a broken wheel, or the soldier taking a leak in the farmyard. Light hearted stuff, I suggest, rather than people being kebabbed by lancers. Recent technology has produced model cars that move magically along roads, without slots or strings, and it can’t be beyond our skills to make a caisson or convoy do the same. Might be interesting. I can’t help feeling we still need a hobby equivalent of Thomas the Tank Engine, and enough genuine public through show doors, to convert meaningful numbers of new recruits.

Making Life Difficult

There has been something puzzling me about the hobby for the last year or so. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but when I was discussing yet another new range of figures at Partizan, it became obvious to me what was causing the concern. One of my mum’s favourite phrases was, ‘You are making life difficult.’ Of course, I took this as a sign of unconditional love! She probably had a point.

So I took myself back to the start of my hobby. It was self contained. I bought, I painted, I gamed. Apart from contact with opponents, and various clubs, the hobby was pure and fresh. While one always dreamed of impossible forces and periods, the actual day to day processes and aims were clear cut, and involved horizons of no more than a single week. It was probably, though I am not sure, self validating as well.

Nowadays, a project once finished prompts notes, photographs, updating of the web site, emails, phone calls, explanations, and perhaps a related review. Sometimes a game or ruleset demands a fairly wide ranging examination of the hobby, and how the new arrival fits in. Others blog what seems to be every hobby moment. Yes, I realise a lot of this is self inflicted, and by no means essential, so we’ll leave this aspect to brew.

More important, and odd, is this. Let me throw out three categories: 20mm WWII, 15mm or 28mm Napoleonics, 28mm Ancients. Is that four? I choose these because as far as I can tell, it is possible to buy just about anything one might need in these scales and periods. Nothing like the days when we gamed with underscale Roco Minitanks and mutated German infantry, because that was all you could get. Or the times when we would crave a certain troop type, and take a scalpel to box after box of Airfix (unless you were rich enough to afford Minifigs or similar).

So why do many of us, me included, now jump recklessly into a new scale, and then spend a long time begging designers for basic, core models? Great excitement when 28mm British Paras arrived. Why? Many models already available in 20mm, notably from AB. Want a 28mm tank or vehicle? Sorry sir, we don’t have much available yet. Hoping for a Bren Carrier next year. In 20mm, you can buy half a dozen variants of almost every vehicle that existed, and a fair few that didn’t. Dragon even make and paint them for you.

I understand gamers updating – a better 28mm French March Attack comes along; feel free to re-buy and re-paint your army. It is just the switch into a different scale and an incomplete range that baffles me, especially when that scale is inferior in quality. I am trying not to say I am right and you are all barmy, but I do wonder!

As you well know, I have been contemplating Napoleonics in 40mm. It took my old brain a long long time before I realised I had a very limited choice of infantry types and poses, and hardly any cavalry. Lancers? Howitzers? Caissons? Landwehr? Jaegers? Polish? Portuguese? Prussians? None of the above. It is like 1975 all over again.

Do we enjoy a challenge? Do we hanker for the unobtainable? Do we, deep down, really like the idea of having to convert? Are we the sort of people that set off to the Arctic with a pair of thick socks and some cream crackers, expecting the rest to turn up on the way? Do I in any way sound like that awful woman on Sex and the City? Don’t answer that. Yes, some of those I recognise as part of the admirable miniatures creed; the have-a-go, unfazed, blind faith, I’ll build one if it doesn’t exist mentality.

Balance this against a further three conversations at the same show, with gamers in their 40’s, in the hobby for decades. Each of them wanted to ‘complete’ just one project. To finish something they started as long as 30 years ago. The power of the butterfly is strong. Shiny, new product in exotic scale is hard to resist, but perhaps the easier route, sometimes, is the best one.

Indoctrination, Good and Bad

Last Sunday, a long time friend came to visit with his son. We had a very good country pub lunch, indulged in our usual nostalgia based chat, discussed the forthcoming Joy Division movie, and retired to Sumo Towers for the main event. In a nutshell, the son plays GW’s Lord of the Rings at school, loves the movies and making terrain, and wanted to improve his figure painting. So, with his dad distracted by my CD and DVD collections, we sat down at the workbench and got the brushes out.

I am pleased to say that after watching me quickly paint an Easterling officer from scratch, explaining as I went, he sat down and did much the same job on the standard bearer. Compared to his previous efforts, there was a marked improvement and he seemed genuinely happy with the progress. After we had taken some photographs, discussed how to paint horses, make hedges and how big Beorn was in bear form (!), I gave him a big watchtower I had made for him, he went home happy and, according to his dad, enthused. Hopefully an investment of a few hours time will bear fruit in years to come.

The interesting point was that during the session, I showed him my Gripping Beast and Artizan Moors but indicated that they were my Haradrim troops. He looked. He looked again. He went away and came back later to look once more. Eventually, he politely asked if I was sure they were Haradrim. We discussed how they might look, especially if these were from Far Harad (my conceit) and what colours they might wear, both of us referring to the books, which he has read. It slowly became apparent that he has a definite film, and so Games Workshop, view in his head. The book’s descriptions, or perhaps what we might imagine and extraloplate from them, were of less import. Obviously my figures looked the part, but were not ‘official’. The power of visuals!

Sarf Lunnon

At something of a loose end one Sunday in August, and encouraged by Henry, I trekked down to London to check out the Whiff of Grapeshot show. A first time visit for me, and very pleased that I made the effort. Emerging from the station, I was somewhat disappointed by the considerable urban decay surrounding me, and distinct lack of the Cutty Sark. Well, any Cutty Sark, to be honest. This would largely be because I was in Woolwich, not Greenwich. And me a Londoner of forty year’s standing, albeit from the North – trips South of the Thames were always rare. But across one busy road, and I was into the quiet, wide open spaces of Woolwich Arsenal, home of the Royal Artillery Museum (aka Firepower), some fine 18th century architecture and the original spawning pits of the foul Gooners.

The show is a small one. There is no denying that. But this can also work in one’s favour. Not only is there plenty of room and a relaxed atmosphere, you can browse and chat with the traders and not be jostled when picking out yet more figures or books. The games were well done, nestling among gun carriages, tanks and exhibits. All around are marvellous pieces of artillery and the medal displays, cap badges and uniforms that go with any regimental museum. Trust me, the guns are spectacular. Five minutes walk away is the Thames, with some great views, and the Woolwich Foot Tunnel.

A Whiff of Grapeshot is well worth supporting. Not only is the show of high quality – surprising numbers of visitors, and ‘big name’ traders including our hero Dave Thomas – but the museum is stunning. A true hidden gem. I liked the Falconet best, though the Gatling gun, much larger than I had imagined, is an eye-opener. Perhaps the best reason to attend is that the site is being eyed up by developers who want to make the whole area, museum included, into executive flats. See you there next August.

Reading the Small Print

Like most hobbyists, I suppose, I use a combination of PVA, Liquid Poly and super glue to tackle most of my hobby tasks. I try to avoid epoxies unless absolutely necessary, but sometimes the materials involved or strength required dictates something tougher. Cue Gorilla Glue. I spotted this at a local model railway show, and took a gamble, but it can now be obtained from the unsurpassed 4D Modelshop in London. Like many wonder glues, Gorilla claims to stick almost anything to anything. In use, I have found that this is true, so far. I tested it recently to attach a chunky resin tower to a Raventhorpe church. You wet one surface and put Gorilla Glue on the other, and clamp firmly together. The resulting bond is very strong indeed, and I am impressed. Less impressive was that after 10 minutes in the G Clamp, the glue started to ooze out of the gaps. Had I read the small print, I would have discovered that the glue increases in volume by four times as it cures. Just be aware of this, as it obviously may need some planning. Otherwise, a very useful product.

Valiant

I had a wonderful time recently with the Valiant 1/72nd plastic Germans. I opened up the box, took out a sprue, and set out to see how easy it would be to make a variety of interesting, even unique, poses. After two hours, and with nearly thirty different figures (and a good few severed limbs) in front of me, I sat back happy. It must be me. Since my Tamiya and Airfix days, I just find multipose figures huge fun to make up. Perhaps it gives me a small taste of the skills of those talented gamers who do this in white metal.

The big advantage here is that the boxes are incredible value for money, and packed full of figures, so you don’t mind too much when you cannibalise a pair of legs, or you create a zombie with the Dremel by mistake. So enjoyable was it that I quickly found myself wanting more – separate radio, rangefinder, more weapons (MG34, 120mm mortars, infantry gun?), perhaps some teller mines, tools, and definitely more leg and arm poses. Most useful would be panzer style jackets and smocks. Always a good sign, wanting more. I even started looking at the British sprues to see what body parts they might contribute to the cause… twenty minutes later I had an FOO team. Above all, they are so easy to convert. Valiant supply a number of alternative heads which are easily added with a pin vice and drill, but arms can be lopped off with ease, legs and torsos swapped with a little more work, and even turning a head takes no time.

Valiant have announced two more packs for later this year: US Infantry and Normandy Germans, which latter should be highly interchangeable with the ‘Classic German’ set on which I have been working. There are also rumours of an American company moving into 28mm multipose ancient plastics, and hopefully in time Valiant will produce even more packs (French, Russians, Fallschirmjager, Italians please) and more variation and intermixing for us. Interesting times.

Kingmaker

The man behind Valiant, Julian Blakeney-Edwards, together with Stephen Hales of LBM, launched yet another venture at Partizan – Kingmaker Miniatures. Once the word spread, which I did my best to do, these became known as the New Hussites. A buzz promptly formed. Sculpted by Jim Bowen and Ian Mountain, with pavise transfers available from LBM, these are 28mm figures that will pretty much decide you on a Hussite army. The heraldry is simply beautiful, and the pavises were selling the figures on their own. There is everything you need, including wagons, handgunners, peasants and a variety of knights. They could serve in many 15th Century forces, and mix well with the Perry 100 Years War range. Personally I will get the peasants, because you can never have too many. Lovely figures.

Romanoff Miniatures

A new firm, staffed with the talented Drabant Miniatures team, has launched a range of 40mm Greek Hoplites. Andy Copestake at Old Glory is stocking these, and kindly sent me some samples. Apart from the fact that you have to attach the right arm, which will put some gamers off, but not me, these are very nice figures indeed. A variety of hoplites are already available, in a range of armour and helment options. I suspect more are on the way, together with, hopefully, peltasts and skirmishers. Finally, I can get my Spartan, Athenian and Theban phalanxes planned. Check them out.

TAG Austrians

And finally, the highlight of my month. Richard Ansell has sculpted some rather tasty Austrian Napoleonics for The Assault Group. The pictures I have seen bode well for an army I have long planned. They are done in the tall and willowy style, with excellent detail, and come out close to 30mm. So far, so good. Richard assures me that the range will be completed, and most of the infantry types are already done. Also good news. At this point my only concern is what the cavalry, specifically the horses, will look like but there are ways around that if it comes to the worst. Overall they are promising enough for me to be selling my Foundry castings. I look forward to holding some of these in the flesh.

Lessons Learned

So, what have we learned this week, children? We have learned that cutting up a coir doormat for wheatfields will make your hand and arm hurt. We also learn that a Stanley knife used for this purpose will quite happily slice through the so-called ‘resealing cutting mat’ placed underneath. And finally we learn that doing all this on your new carpet in the middle of the room is a very stupid move. I managed to stick most of it back together, with super rather than Gorilla Glue.