Forward Observer 15

Project Update

I am finally getting to the point where my concentrated nine months of painting and terraining is bearing fruit. So much so that I have been able to put on a handful of games this year. The terrain still has obvious holes – roads and rivers for starters – and there aren’t that many figures available, but in all cases there were enough. This is old fashioned progress.

However, as with any business plan I have done in the past, my output bears very little resemblance to the strict ‘Tractor Plan’ I set myself in January. At that point I was trying to make sense of a huge expansion in periods, scales and figure sizes. Thankfully, things have settled down. My main efforts have been in building terrain, my 40mm Feudals, and expanding the 30mm Napoleonics and 20mm WWII. Two small side projects include 1/144th WWI planes and Lord of the Rings.

In addition, a good friend has given me a massive collection of 20mm tanks and figures to work on, and I have an ambitious new project in 30mm for later this year that has needed some planning and research. I have vowed to relearn my airbrush skills and I am also doing quite a bit of converting and even some rudimentary (non facial) sculpting, which I am enjoying. In short, focus (well, relative focus) has returned.

Peter Pig

We continue to work through the Peter Pig rules oeuvre. I like that word. The latest candidate seeking elevation to ‘regular rule set’ status was Civil War Battles, of which we played a couple of games using a friend’s 15mm ACW collections. This is a more recent/modern set than the excellent AK47 and shows that Martin Goddard is changing his style. The rules are more complicated, fiddly and, for me, less fun. What they are not is a bad set of rules, and the pre-battle sequence (which can take quite a while) generates some fascinating scenarios. The rules are worth buying for this alone. I suspect we will give these another play, and also try Fire & Fury for comparison. We then move onto Napoleonics and Marlburian sets.

Gaming in Style

Two gamers of my acquaintance have decided that their faithful old 8’ x 4’ boards are no longer good enough and that, as life and finances allow, they will finally get the gaming space they want. One has negotiated a gaming room that has a square footage larger than my house (seriously) and has installed display cabinets and a massive multi-pose square table with removable ‘walk in’ sections. I think even an American model railroader would swoon. The other has taken the extreme step of renting some office space in London and filling it with shelves and tables that make up a gaming area of 21’ x 13’. Not quite as big as the Wargames Holiday Centre, but not half bad, I think you’ll agree. The ability to have troops on site, leave the game in progress, and the sheer size of the battlefield must make for some fascinating actions. I hope to be visiting soon.

Boardgames

I promised to let you know about good board wargames as they cross my path. I can therefore recommend the gutsy and grinding Espana 1936, available in an English edition from Devir. Depicting the Spanish Civil War at a strategic level, with excellent components, it uses easily remembered rules, victory conditions and combat procedures to put both players in a tough position. The system is transparent; you are left to your own devices with flavoursome event cards adding regular chaos. Heavy on decisions, and never enough actions, you may feel that you are having it bad, with your entire front trying to hold and a key objective city under imminent threat, but the other guy is probably feeling much worse.

If you like games that put you through the mangle – tense, nervous energy, constant pressure and epic battles – this is the game for you. Fortunately (and appropriately) you need suffer this only for two to three hours, and there may often be a quicker sudden death resolution. Historical atmosphere is excellent, graphics are great, I learned quite a bit about the period (through the point to point map, counters and clear objectives), and the game situation is one of the best I have ever encountered. Not since Friedrich and Wallenstein have I played such a good game in this category.

NB Devir’s English edition is well worth tracking down as it saves on Spanish language lookup, and it also includes a naval expansion as standard – I have yet to play this.

Partizan

I thoroughly enjoyed the second Partizan this year, perhaps a little more than even the first. I know this will sound like an old record, but one consistently sees demonstration games of the highest standards at this show. This time we had Steve Jones with an engaging 6mm Napoleonc battle, a very impressive WWI set up by Coltishall, with a distinct nod to Dave Andrews’ tour de force of 2006, the Perries put on a lovely Carlist Wars game which if you squinted a bit looked Napoleonic in almost every way, and The League of Gentleman Wargamers had a Ligny game of the highest standard.

Stripping

No, things haven’t got that bad quite yet. Credit crunch or no. We are talking paint stripping techniques for plastics, with a warning attached. Or, the latest in the line of Siggins Bench Disasters.

Sometimes I buy up inexpensive batches of figures from eBay, such as Uruk Hai covered in tar, or want to get rid of the factory finish from Heroclix or AT43 models. Normally I use either Simple Green (www.simplegreen.co.uk) or Precision Paint’s SuperStrip, which latter is specially formulated to work on plastic and tackles most jobs admirably. But perhaps because it is from the model railway hobby, it can’t handle everything. Heroclix figures gave me a lot of trouble, as nothing would touch them, while certain AT43 mech finishes won’t budge under anything short of Liquid Poly, which has the unfortunate effect of melting the model as well…

Then someone kindly suggested the acetone approach, either pure or in solution, specifically Cutex nail varnish remover. Broadly speaking this solvent will strip just about anything overnight, leave the plastic as clean and shiny as the day it left the mould, and, if sniffed, clear your head admirably. Given the chance, it will also loosen superglue joints and polish your toenails. It certainly made very light work of acrylic ‘painted’ Riders of Rohan. I am therefore pleased to have a new tool. Prudence suggests, however, that you test an unimportant figure first if going down this road.

On that subject, there is a serious rider. I left a batch of stubborn Mordor orcs in Cutex overnight, as their mystery black primer wasn’t shifting. In short, I couldn’t get home the next day thanks to work, and by the time I returned they had been swimming around for 48 hours. And orcs hate swimming. The primer was dropping off. Good. They were also very, very floppy and felt soft. Bad. It seems that Cutex will take out the paint, and keep on going!

I rinsed them in water, and left them to recover. Some thin parts, like swords and spears, were too weak to save. But apart from an overall white cast, the figures seemed fine, as they had slowly re-hardened. The warning is not finished though. I did the soaking in a very hard clear plastic cup, the sort of thing you get M&S trifles in, or beer in rough pubs. The Cutex had weakened this cup at the surface level, in a perfect circle, such that when I picked it up, the bottom fell right off… Cutex everywhere. The smell subsided after three days.

Philosophy

Interesting month, I think prompted by my extended review of Sharp Practice last time. A number of people have commented that I am not as, umm, forthright as I once was and that sometimes Forward Observer looks a lot like the reviews section. I hold my hands up to these comments, having made a conscious decision to produce more positive writing, but would like to think I still criticise when the cap fits (e.g. a lack of Celtic shields).

Normally, this means that I gush uncontrollably when I like something (recently Perry Plastics, Partizan II, Eureka Age of Reason, Alban Miniatures, AK47 and rediscovering Plaka paints), and politely omit commentary when I don’t. The best possible outcome for me is a product that has both good and bad points. And let’s face facts, that covers almost all of them. This gives the opportunity for a bit of analysis, some discussion on relative merits, and probably the best chance of a reader working out whether the rules or figures are for him.  Plus, I enjoy the writing process more.

Another factor is that often I don’t have anything to write about. That is partly because I want to avoid repetition most of the time, and also because sometimes, especially in the summer, the hobby fades into the background.

Overall the main reasons for my style adjustment are that I am really enjoying Battlegames and everything it stands for, I work well with Henry, and that there is so much good stuff in the hobby at the moment. There are a lot of products and trends to take in, and many rules and periods to try, and my enthusiasm levels feed off of this blissful state. As I said to my editor, I am just trying to be interesting!