Forward Observer 13

Plastics

I apologise for headlining yet again with plastic news, a subject that divides you down the middle and sends some metal manufacturers running for the valium. But this is an exciting time for we plastiphiles, so you are just going to have to let me waffle on a bit more. Because, yes, my dream scenario is slowly coming to life. Buoyed by the rapid success of the ACW line, and the imminent Age of Plastic, the Perries have announced French Napoleonic infantry. Woohoo! Okay, so they are French, in the short tailed uniform, and the oil price is hurtling towards $150 per barrel, but I have waited thirty years for this development. So I am very happy indeed. I chatted to Alan Perry at Partizan, and between bows and grovelling, asked if there would be hat variations to achieve the all-important rag-tag look of late war French. He confirmed that there would be forage caps, bonnets de police and ‘other variants’. There will also be greatcoats. Excellent. 1814 here I come. But will there be British? And Prussians? And guns and cavalry? He wouldn’t be drawn. But no fear, because I am sure they will do something and anyway, in the red corner, we now have Victrix Ltd who have announced British, Highanders and French to come. It is almost too good to be true. I refuse to pinch myself.

Meanwhile Warlord Games have delivered on their promise, the Romans are already with us and the Celts hot on their heels. I have reviewed the Legionaries elsewhere, along with more plastic related thoughts! You can probably tell that I am fit to burst. It is a great time to be a wargamer.

Old School

Ian Marsh (Fighting 15’s) has gone for broke and released a range of 30mm old school or classic style Seven Years War figures under the Huzzah! Miniatures banner. These are reminiscent of the classic Spencer Smith marching models seen in The Wargame, and Charge! The similarity ends when one looks at the figures, as these have a lot more detail and considerable appeal. They are also metal rather than plastic, but are priced very reasonably at about 80p each. I really like them, and suggest you take a look when they come into production. My figures await the paintbrush, and they have left me (once again) on the cliff’s edge. Should I jump and finally get into SYW? Or will Napoleonics and medievals continue to hold sway? Watch this space.

Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang

Lennon and McCartney. Rogers and Hammerstein. Cannon and Ball. The Krankies. There have been some great double acts. Now, we have our very own in the shape of Copplestone and Owen. This likely duo announced a mystery range earlier this year. We were invited to guess, but they were so coy that no-one came close. What emerged was Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang, a range of 1960’s style spies and villains. You can think Bond, Carry On Spying, The Prisoner, Flint and U.N.C.L.E., but things are not quite what they seem. The initial sixteen figures are superbly done, featuring cool tailoring, evil masterminds and henchmen who couldn’t hit a barn door. We are promised a set of rules and many more figures for this exciting and largely untouched period, and I for one can’t wait. Highly recommended.

Bases

I primarily use pre-cut MDF bases, from East Riding Miniatures, for almost all my basing needs. If I want to go a little posher, or need round bases, I get out the Stanley knife and coping saw and cut out shapes from a large sheet of 1.5mm ply. Let’s put it this way; there are more enjoyable ways to spend an hour, and I have never quite mastered right angles or perfect circles. In response, Phil Olley reminded me about Litko in the US, and I vowed to send an order, which I never got round to. So when I spotted Fenris Games’ new range of cut plywood bases, sourcing in Chatham rather than across the Atlantic, I requested a sample pack. Within a couple of days, I had ordered a number of bags – 30mm x 30mm, and a selection of round bases. I honestly can’t fault them, and the prices seem very competitive. The round bases also make ideal wagon wheels. Highly recommended. You can find these on eBay, or from www.fenrisgames.com.

Hair Rollers

One of the best games seen this Spring was put on by the Hornchurch Group. They did Quatre Bras with what appeared to be 5mm figures. The overall impact was very impressive, and became more so when I was told that all the figure blocks were made from hair rollers. Now we oldies know that this isn’t a new idea, I believe it goes back at least to the early Eighties when Andy Callan wrote up the concepts for Miniature Wargames. That said, I have never actually seen it done. I have to say that from a distance there was no real difference compared to 6mm figures – I know this statement will bring down a fatwa from the Baccus sect!

The problem is that with technological advances, hair rollers are going out of fashion and can be hard to find. One certainly wouldn’t want to buy second hand… You can just imagine the scene in the marketing world. “So, our sales have gone through the roof. What does the market research say?” “Well… the sales seem to be mainly to middle aged bald men. We have no idea why.” “You’re Fired!”

Terrain

I am going to be brutally honest here, just to make the point. When Paul Darnell and his Touching History games and books appeared, I was at a loss as to why he was getting such a positive reaction around the hobby. The games looked good, but not great, and the colours seemed slightly off – especially the grass.  Plus, the books seemed to re-cycle old techniques. They were also expensive. Add in promotion of the wretched dark undercoat technique (again!) and I was lost. In the end, I put it down to me being out of step (again!).

Time passes until Summer 2007, when it all started to become clear. By this time I had been round to Bill Gaskin’s to see his remarkable, and huge, Spanish town, built by Paul. I had also revisited the Touching History books, which I magically found full of interesting ideas… I had also spent a while looking at Paul’s wonderful AWI game at Woolwich Arsenal and chatting to the man himself. In the fashion of politicians, I did a prompt U Turn! Paul admitted that he had changed his grass colouring, which I had half-noticed, and that the dark undercoat would not be for everyone. He then proceeded to answer any question I fired at him, and by the end of the show we were chatting like old mates.

The story concludes, happily, with Paul’s latest Napoleonic demo game. When I first saw it, I literally stopped in my tracks. No exaggeration. Here was a game that looked absolutely spot on. So, this is me eating humble pie and recommending Paul’s products and books unreservedly.

Mr. Longhurst

I have told the story many times of being shown how to paint horses by Max Longhurst. This was at Waterloo Day in 1975 and I have used the same technique ever since. Apart from being a mentor to the masses, Max has made and painted some of the most beautiful models in the history of the hobby. Yes, 54mm Historex and larger, but as always there are lessons to be learned for our scales. Oddly, in all that time, there has never been a book or video (to my knowledge) showing his work. Now we can buy a DVD, Warhorses, that shows step by step techniques on converting and painting horses. For me, this was a visual treat and I have already watched it twice.

Progress

Despite being very busy for the first few months of the year, I have been gaming fairly regularly (Peter Pig rules, in the main) and have made good progress with my painting projects. I have been focussing hard on my 40mm Feudals, using Trident, Brooks, Sash & Saber and Graven Images figures, with my eye keenly on the Crusaders forthcoming from First Legion. The ranks have recently swollen with the release of the Norman foot from Sash & Saber. These are generic spearmen that will convert easily to 1200 AD and I think they are some of the best yet from this prolific company. If they were wearing chainmail I would be even happier, but I will convert a couple anyway and we may yet see another pack in heavier protection. Good stuff.

I have scratchbuilt quite a lot of terrain, including a small fleet of farm wagons, but could not hope to come close to the excellent medieval buildings made by Hudson & Allen, so these were quickly included. They are 28mm, but the size works and one can’t argue with the overall look and detail – you can get these from TM Terrain in the UK. The rules for this endeavour will be Pig Wars, which we like, but I am always open to suggestions. I can’t help feeling that the definitive hand to hand system is yet to be written (he said with Montjoie, D&D d20 and many others unread on the shelf).

Lardielicious

A ‘side project’ popped up once Sharp Practice appeared from the Too Fat Lardies. This is an adventurous set of black powder skirmish rules that acknowledges the existence of higher formations, and as such was much anticipated here at Sumo Towers. At best, this will be a rule set that fills a gaping hole in my repertoire and lets me release all those low level exchanges that are stuck in my head – Sharpe, Flashman, Hornblower, Pirates, Old West, Naval Landings, French/Indian, Peninsula skirmishes etc. I may even splash out on HLBSCo’s highly tempting 40mm Cape Wars range – these are superb figures. From an initial read there is a lot going on here, and there are some interesting new mechanisms. I have a test session scheduled in the next fortnight, and we are all looking forward to the game.

Having dawdled for many years, this event forced me to finish my Spanish town and, painfully, start in on painting French to oppose my many British peninsula forces. When I moved house, my mate and his French stayed in London, so I am pulling together a small French/Polish skirmish force ‘for local people’. I chose Elite figures for this, and I am very pleased with the results. They paint up nicely, fit well sizewise with my old style Brits, and the price is right. Some of the figures are better than others, but there are models here that come very close to my ideal. Why painful? I just find French infantry an ordeal – they are endless, and even when you think you are finished there are still buttons or piping to do. I think it is because I used to paint them for other people!

Alban

The Sharp Practice rules came with two limited edition 28mm British riflemen sculpted by Richard Ansell. These are beautifully done, in Richard’s realistic style, so much so that it is hard to work out which existing figures they will fit in with. What is certain is that they will fit with the forthcoming Alban Miniatures range, because Richard has done those as well. We are promised more riflemen and French to oppose them. Can’t wait.

Pure Inspiration

You will have noted that I very rarely mention books these days. That would be because the vow to stop adding to the precarious piles, commenced two years ago, has pretty much held fast. Okay, so I have switched the purchases onto DVDs, and a book or two still creeps through each month. But compared to the Golden Age, or The Madness if you prefer, I am a comparative saint. There are always exceptions. One of my favourite books is The Art of Robert Griffing. This is a sumptuous volume, full of colour pictures of woodland Indians, many of which are in a military setting. The superb artwork has long inspired me and others, including John Ray who has made many 30mm versions of the vignettes. You can perhaps understand that I quickly shelled out £40 for the second volume, ISBN 978-0-9800812-0-6, recently published by Paramount Press. It is, in a word, stunning. I bought mine from www.hudsons-bay.de, as shipping from Germany was considerably cheaper than from the US. If you have any interest in the French Indian War, both these books are must purchases.

Lost

You are, I’m sure, aware of the awesome power of The Carpet God to bounce and absorb components. Pieces dropped, usually incredibly tiny, are hidden instantly. Often they first make record leaps, or scurry into impossible crevices, sometimes never to be seen again. Somewhere in my mate’s game room is a small plastic submarine. Lost with all hands, 12 years ago. Last week I had a couple of classics. First, a 28mm figure blu-tacked to a cork took a dive off the bench. Not an easy one to lose, but it took me a good ten minutes before I worked out it had gone straight into an open bag of plaster and neatly buried itself. The judges awarded a high tariff. Even more strange was a gun mantlet from a 1/72nd tank. Not something that one can easily replace or ignore. So I had to look. After 20 minutes of increasing frustration, moving everything in a four foot radius, I had to admit defeat. Another one sacrificed to the Carpet God? No. I eventually found the piece downstairs – this time Carpet had used its evil ally, Clothing, to transport the victim.