Forward Observer 11

28mm Plastics

Well, it had to happen. I really hoped it would. 28mm multi-part historical plastics. I thought perhaps a Russian or Chinese company might try it, or a rich American, or even Games Workshop. But the Perries? Mana from heaven. After the fun I have had converting and painting Valiant and Tamiyas in recent weeks, I just can’t wait to get my hands on these. The downside? Well, I don’t really do ACW, and I don’t see even these figures making it happen. It is not a period I enjoy, and I don’t think I will change my mind. The scale too sets them on their own, unless by some quirk their heads or weapons match Tamiya’s 1/48ths. But the conversion possibilities are many, and I just know I will end up painting some Rebs. I don’t know about your group, but this announcement caused quite a stir. I am very excited about the possibilities for the hobby, and look forward to my first pack. I will be queuing.


I may be mistaken, but there has never been much in the way of  visual aids for our hobby. The odd professional painter has done a VHS tape, there are book and magazine step by steps, but mainly it is internet and word of mouth. Oh, and probably YouTube, if I could be bothered to look. Personally, I get a lot from watching someone else make models or paint on video, because sometimes that is the only way to see exactly what is going on. So with that in mind, and a small case of fan fever, I bought Marcus Nicholls’ DVD on Realistic Armour Finishing Techniques (Compendium Films).

Marcus Nicholls is undoubtedly one of the best modellers in the world, and regularly has work in Tamiya Model Magazine International magazine, which he also edits. He excels at realistic paint finishes and weathering, often breaking new ground, and he has very few rivals in this respect. Broadly speaking, this topic is exactly what the DVD covers. We go from a base sprayed tank, right through masking, washes, filters (glazes), paint chipping (very trendy), rust streaks and general weathering. Colours are explained fully, as are mix consistencies, and application is shown in every case. Overall, it is an excellent effort. It loses marks only because it needs more close-ups; sometimes it is impossible to see what is being painted and how. Granted, these are tiny details being applied, but that is what we need to know. Mr Nicholls also works very quickly, and I am pleased to see that I am not alone in my regular use of a hairdryer!

Having enjoyed the first DVD, and also seen Richard Windrow’s Terrain Modelling in the same series, I am going to get Realistic Model Buildings as well. This is also by Mr Nicholls, and apparently shows the infamous Marmite masking technique, which cannot be missed.

It must be stressed that all of these DVD’s concentrate on 1/35th and larger models, but to be honest the techniques pretty much work all the way down to 15mm. I have been trying them out on 1/72nd tanks and they work fine. I wouldn’t want to paint chip a 1/300th tank, but I am sure there are those that have. And if you want to emulate the realistic techniques of Mr Nicholls, these will show you an awful lot more than the magazines. For all round coverage, I would also recommend Mig Jimenez’ F.A.Q. book as a great partner. The DVD’s cost £13 to £15 and each runs around 90 minutes, including extras, which is a good price compared to other specialist hobby DVD’s. Highly recommended.

The Way of the Warrior

James Clavell has a lot to answer for. And that Kurosawa bloke, come to think of it. In truth, I was bitten fairly early on by the samurai bug. While Kagemusha remains overrated, once I had seen The Seven Samurai, Yojimbo and Ran, I was a lifetime convert to the old bushido boys. I have almost every book by the ubiquitous Stephen Turnbull, the Toshiro Mifune of samurai writing. I adore my Angus McBride plates, even if they are a bit chubby. I much prefer Heian to the more popular Muromachi, so I have maintained my typical exoticism. I play Samurai RPG’s when I can. I have samples of every figure range ever made, except of course Dixon. I even have John Jenkins buildings and torii stored away in cupboards. I have listed all the figures I want from the Perries. And I do eat quite a lot of rice and sushi. I am, as they say, all set.

And I am not alone. With the WHAB samurai supplement due soon, it seems everyone and his dog is doing samurai models and planning armies. Caught up in the pre-publication excitement, my willpower was duly weakened. When the excellent West Wind figures appeared at Warfare, I was forced to resist manfully, to dream of horse archers, big drums and katanas, and not credit card slips. All to no avail, because my mate Rob had bought some and cruelly left me with half a dozen figures to paint. You see how easily I am distracted?

That night I sat there painting away. And painting. And painting. After what seemed like several hours, I had completed one figure. Projecting this rate of output to even skirmish forces, I phoned Rob and admitted defeat. I thought highlanders were bad, but the harsh truth is that these are the toughest subjects I have ever had to paint. Really hard work. Endless undercuts, armour, ribbon and florals all the way to the horizon. My zen powers are fading. I am thinking… Stug IIIs. They’re easy. And fun. I’ll do one of those instead.


I met Sean Judd a few years ago at Euro Militaire. He was showing his new range of 40mm knights and Robin Hood characters, and I liked them a lot. I bought some, I vowed to paint them with lots of neat heraldry. As you do. After that, things went a bit topsy turvy for me. Four years later, digging around in a box, I found the knights. Odd. Very odd. In that very week I had taken delivery of some 40mm feudals from Graven Images, sculpted by Jim Bowen. My next project, ‘1250’, was underway.

Unlike me, Sean has not been quiet. He has expanded the knights to include a decent range of archers, crossbowmen and men at arms. There are more models coming. He has also done a considerable number of AWI sculpts, again in 40mm. When I put in an order for the knights, some of the AWI’s came along with them. And I have to say I was bowled over. I immediately painted Paul Revere, who comes mounted on a superb horse – this is up there with the Drabant sculpts as the best I have seen in this scale. The characterful infantry are also excellent, and I recommend you have a good look if considering this period.

All the figures mentioned are available from Doug Carroccio at the Miniatures Service Centre, whose mail order service is exemplary. With the dollar squirming, they can be had for a song. Sean is looking for options for a UK distributor, and is promising some very tempting ranges in the future including woodland Indians. I would like some more knights please Sean, more weapons, and some smelly peasants.

Productivity Drive

There is one stand that always catches my eye at shows. It shouldn’t, because I am sworn off of 28mm WWII, but Bolt Action always have something new and tempting. This might be because between Paul Hicks, Richard Ansell and the team they have churned out over 700 masters to date. This year they have tempted me with Italians (resisted, just), SS (minor purchase), more Italian Paras (sale Mr Humphreys!) and now, my beloved Fallschirmjaeger. The latter are excellent, among the best that Paul has done. With a camera crew in the works, I can see that I will be spending more time and money here.


I am still playing a lot of games. Well, a lot for me. We continue with our interest in AK47 and while I would make some minor changes to ease it towards ‘The Perfect Game’, it is still providing some excellent, tense battles, and some memorable situations. Inevitably, happy with the general feel, we are looking to variants in other periods. These are likely to be 1940 (Blitzkrieg and Desert) and for me, a tempting excursion into Mexican Revolutions. I will check out options for ancients and medievals, probably writing the latter myself.

Another game earning its keep is Wings of War, a 1/144th scale WWI air game that I have mentioned before. This may look like a boardgame, as it comes in a box, but this is very much a miniatures game. That said, it has found favour with both groups. The games are simple, quick and fun, reminiscent of Sopwith for anyone who remembers that game from the 1970’s, and the more recent Aerodrome, by the talented Stan Kubiak. We are all painting Skytrex 1/144th planes to give us plenty of variety. Well worth a look.

have also started to play Pig Wars. Now there is a deceptive set of rules. Overpriced, under produced and frankly not a model of clarity. But… we played them, they work, and they have a certain something. I was swayed by a chat with a fan at Partizan who was convinced that the rules could handle any skirmish from Sumer to Sci-fi, and probably beyond. I am not sure about that, but they certainly are a flexible set and do manage to convey a good feel for the Dark Age period, so they might work for, say, samurai or medievals.

Finally, rounding out a very active period, is Astounding Tales. I have written a full review elsewhere, but suffice to say that this pulp game has been a great success.

And to think I used to only play Napoleonics.

Colour Matching

As I have alluded to before, I am not that great at converting colours from real life to paint. I’m better than I was, but still need a lot of help. I still can’t do the mixing thing. Two products have surfaced recently that are going to make life a lot easier. The first is Color Match 1.0, which is a web based tool that lets you do all sorts of clever stuff. And it is free. Want to find out the equivalent to Scab Red in other ranges? Or, give me the Vallejo equivalent of Tamiya Nato Brown. No problem. Want to work out a three band colour recipe? Again, easy. The neatest aspect, for me, is that you can even type in a hex number and it will show you the matching colours from all the paint ranges.

This means I can take a photo, or find one on the web, and get an average hex value using the colour dropper in Photoshop. I then put the number into Color Match and it gives me a match. And the match is good enough. Last week I needed to match Hanjin blue (you find this on shipping containers) and it was easy to find once I had a photo. Excellent!

I am not yet saying the package is perfect, because obviously it does not have all the paints in the world (it cost enough to get the many existing swatches in and analysed) and it does occasionally come up with odd answers – often suggesting silver or other metallics for light greys, presumably because of their tonal similarity. But it has the big paint names included, and designer Joe Kutz is open to suggestions on improvements. As I don’t always have access to the web, I am hoping that Color Match emerges as a standalone offline product, and that in time it includes more and more paint ranges – especially W&N oils. Would I pay for it? Yes. It is that good.

In a similar vein, but rather less affordable, is the Matchstik. I came across this in an interior design magazine. It is a small device that you can hold up against a surface and it will read the colour, in about 10,000 graduations, again reporting back as a number. The shop offering the service made them available on loan, so that one might check that ones curtains matched ones cushions! I had other ideas. It is made by X-Rite in the States, and marketed in Europe by Sikkens. Oddly, I have not been able to find the device for sale, or even a price, but I get the distinct impression that this is not a few quid.  But as Tomorrow’s World always promised, a cheaper one will be along soon. Although, come to think of it, I am still waiting for my hover boots.

And Another Year Is Done

Usually I try to restrict myself to ten favourite products for the year end round up. Not going to happen this year. No sir. Be lucky to get under twenty. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Anglian Miniatures’ Spanish Civil War and buildings

Artizan’s Thrilling Tales, Arthurians and Wild West

Asmodee’s Hell Dorado figures.

Black Hat’s early Samurai, hoping they expand the range.

Black Scorpion’s Old West, but not the Apaches…

Bolt Action’s Italians, SS and Falschirmjaeger

Caesar’s 20mm Biblicals

Dragon’s 1/72nd Armour, made and unmade

eBob’s 28mm Rebellion range, especially the horses

Graven Images’ 40mm Feudals

HLBSCo’s 40mm multi-part SWAT teams.

Italeri’s 20mm Napoleonics and 1/72nd Armour

Kingmaker Miniatures’ Hussites

Little Big Man Transfers – everything, really

Oshiro’s buildings – very promising start

Perry Miniatures’ 28mm & 40mm Napoleonics, HYW, Civilians etc

Rackham’s AT-43 mechs, but not much else

Sash & Sabre’s 40mm Napoleonics and Landsknechts

Silicon Dragon’s Colour Match 1.0

Tamiya’s 1/48th range

The Assault Group’s 30mm Napoleonic Austrians

Tom Meier, generally

Trident Design’s 40mm AWI range

Valiant’s 1/72nd Classic Germans

WestWind’s Samurai

Zvezda’s 20mm Egyptians, Vikings etc

And I am sure I have missed a few, even with that lot. Given my unusual taste, this range of product is indicative of a great time to be in the hobby. Next year looks even better! But while there is no doubt a Golden Age in terms of product quality, choice and availability, and to an extent relative cost, we are still looking at some worrying signs, even without unwelcome re-enactors.

I think it is now clear that the show circuit is contracting, as many of us thought it must. Compared to the peak of a few years ago, several events have disappeared – interesting that while shows lapse for very good reasons (Walthamstow, Colchester, Stockton etc), they don’t always re-surface. It will, for instance, be very interesting to see if SELWG makes it back. I sincerely hope it does, as it left a big hole in my calendar, and many traders I have spoken to were chasing the business lost.

Prices are clearly rising, much in keeping with other drains on our wallets, which I hope means that more traders are making a decent return, with more and more able to go it full time. While we punters would prefer the bargains of years past, I feel it is still an affordable hobby for now. Whether it is an accessible hobby is a different matter. With some 28mm figures at £2 to £3, and rule sets regularly topping £15 or £20, I feel there will be a crunch point that pushes many newcomers and existing hobbyists towards skirmish games. Fortunately 20mm plastics are looking up all the time, and still provide great value for money, but are slightly spoilt by some companies allowing scale creep. Quality across the hobby is improving by the month, and we haven’t even started to feel the impact of 3d prototyping. But we still have ranges not being finished… I am still waiting for a guilty manufacturer to drop me a line and explain why. In return I can explain why some buyers won’t jump and buy until they have seen commitment from the sculptor. Meanwhile, I am putting it down to having both sculpting talent and the butterfly gene.

That said, I remain as positive about the hobby as I have been since the Seventies. I could, quite happily, sit for all my free time painting, modelling, making terrain and reading rules. I have played more games in 2007 than in the previous decade. Apart from a fairly solid commitment to 40mm Feudals and my 20mm Egyptians, I am still flitting around, but even that is not troubling me as it once did. The hobby is rich, varied and fulfilling, and I am really enjoying it.

Lead Neutral

At least three people (quite a chunk of my readership) have asked me if I maintained my pledge to sell or paint more figures than I bought in 2007. I did, just, but only by selling a load of Foundry spares over Christmas! The net outflow was about 30 figures, which I aim to improve upon substantially this year. Of course, if you counted plastics, I am in the hole to the tune of 300 or more… I certainly don’t feel too badly about that.