Forward Observer 16

Trouble Comes in Threes

I hope. It has been a traumatic month: a bad bike crash, preventing painting; having my wallet, keys and phone stolen in the British Museum; and finally a water leak which, uncannily, homed in on some of my favourite Napoleonic books – mainly the big, expensive ones full of uniform plates. This latter event gave rise to all sorts of emotions, none good, and of course a frantic effort to save what I could. Through work, I have some book preservation training, and quickly put this into practice. You will be pleased to know that even in the middle of the panic, surrounded by bulging books, kitchen roll and heaters, I found myself spending less time trying to save the artillery and marine plates than I did on the Gendarmes, Polish Lancers and Mamelukes. A true miniaturist!

The Code of Bushido

I recently revisited the West Wind and Assault Group samurai which I had previously, and uniquely, failed to paint. This time: different mindset, positive outlook, and tools at the ready. I took the view that this challenge could not be rushed, and so I was prepared, even happy, to spend up to a couple of hours per figure to get this done. As it turned out it may have been quite a bit longer.

I also finally succumbed to the lure of the magnifier. When it came to painting on the individual ribbons on the armour I really didn’t have a choice. So, having fought against it for years I reached for the lens on a bendy stalk (a lace making contraption from Daylight), manoeuvred it into position, and tried my hardest to learn to paint using a giant brush tip, without much depth perception. Oddly, the technique came to me quickly and after about thirty minutes I was moving along nicely. While I don’t currently need it for general painting, it obviously won’t be the last time I use it. The final result is twenty figures painted and ready to go, with more ordered from West Wind’s excellent range. Pleasing. Overcoming a challenge. Man as the tool user. You know what I’m getting at.

Size Matters

I have hardly ever felt the need to measure figures, looking askance at the many systems (often American, for some reason) for establishing exact height and, presumably, compatibility. Perhaps when one is buying from a different continent it is useful to have a firm idea of size. But in the way of these things, I have done little else but measure figures in the last six months. Out comes the steel rule or the caliper, and there I sit taking base to eye level readings.

Why? Relativity! There was a worrying time last year when I was painting nothing but 40mm, which made 28mm look soooo tiny. Then I painted some 15mm (Black Hat Marlburians) for a friend, and that caused more ocular confusion. I then (prompted by the plastic invasion) returned to 28-30mm, doing some conversions, and started measuring each manufacturer. Add in to this the growing trend towards anatomical figures, so that a figure could be the right height but the wrong width, plus ageing eyes, and you have a royal muddle.  In short I have lost the ability to ‘eye’ them, so the former talent has to be replaced by empirical process.

Black Hat Washes

I continue to use the new Games Workshop washes in every painting session. While all but a few colours come and go, these pots are ever present on the bench. They are used for weathering, flesh washes, instant uniform shading, flags, pre-shading, horses, vehicles and many other tasks. My mate Rob assures me they are not a universal solution, and I agree fully, sticking with my beloved oil washes and inks as a more intense complement. But the washes are very useful, and one can pull off some very subtle results with what always seems minimal effort. They are, in my opinion, one of the key paint releases in recent years. I have stocked up accordingly. So, three serious and polite requests to Games Workshop: please consider launching a clear wash as a matt varnish, please fill the pots (some are less than half full) and please don’t withdraw the range any time soon.

While GW paint sourcing is a mystery (China is a big place), many of us probably use the products of HMG Paints more than we know. They supply several acrylic paint brands, including the excellent Railmatch line, and are probably best known in the hobby for Coat d’Arms. Black Hat own this brand and have just released their own range of Super Washes. These are close to GW’s, but not quite the same. They settle in a slightly different way and come in some useful colours – the yellow and the light browns are most welcome. Worth experimenting with a pot or two.

Plastics

If you said to me, ohhh, five years ago that I would be sitting with two different brands of 28mm multipart plastic Napoleonics on my bench, I would have laughed. It never seemed remotely possible that there would ever be such an exciting development in the hobby. But here it is, and many thanks to the Perries and Victrix for making it happen. That they are both superbly done, albeit in different styles, and that we have more to come, is just a bit too much for this old hobbyist brought up on Historex, Airfix and the mighty Chris Ellis. Plastics, both 28mm and 20mm, are providing an exciting time for gamers of all varieties, and it is a privilege to be around to enjoy it.

There is undoubtedly some healthy rivalry here, and competition should provide the gamer with a lot of good stuff. Judging by buoyant initial sales across the board, I expect the manufacturers won’t be too worried about investing in future products. What will we have in a year’s time? Napoleonic cavalry seem a sure bet, artillery perhaps, and I would imagine a small scale rush to guess the next period to be tackled.  Since we are firmly in a dream sequence, I may as well ask again for those 28mm Historex style horse halves, mix and match plastic buildings, multi-pose Russians and Austrians, and some Sassanids, medievals and Samurai while you’re at it!

Slightly underperforming, to my mind, is Warlord. While the figures are generally good, and some are excellent, there is definitely a lack of consistency. I also feel that the prices are not user friendly. Worse, we had the Gallic shield incident and the worrying pricing for the Roman veterans, where you simply get less for the same money – edging ever closer to the metal per figure price. It would be churlish to say that two ex-GW employees are hoping to re-purpose learned marketing policies, but it is  concerning. I retain faith in the historical hobby to rile against unreasonable pricing, and indeed any attempt to charge more for ‘better’ troops. But let’s see how it goes.

On the other hand I hope that Warlord’s ECW range is a huge success, which I will certainly buy if the figures match the prototype images. About time I got that project done. The announcement has at least caused Renegade to launch an ECW sale at plastic prices… The key here will be whether the Warlord figures scale out with the petite Perries’ range, or the considerably chunkier and lofty Renegade/Bicorne. I am probably erring towards the Perries in preference, even though I own some Bicorne bare metal, but at the moment I am keeping an open mind.

Reverting to Type

An unexpected side effect is that with a return to my ‘natural’ state of decades ago (plastics, converting and 30mm), my interest in 40mm and 1/48th has reduced sharply. In the space of just three months, to be honest. I am happily committed to my 40mm Feudals, and will buy and paint more, but thoughts of large numbers of 40mm Napoleonics, ECW, Wild West, Pirates or even Tricorne Era have definitely receded. At the same time, Tamiya seem to have slowed to a trickle with their quarter scale range releases. Nothing is decided, nothing will go to waste, I will still buy Drabants (!), and I have not invested too heavily, but…  There is a real sense of feeling much happier with the little guys for now. Sorry about this, Messrs Copestake and Kemp. I am sure I will buy other stuff…

Posing

The two releases of plastic Napoleonics have resurrected that old question of pose: standing; advancing; march attack; charging; firing line. Each one makes a unit look good in one situation, but a bit daft in any other. Victrix offer a lot of varied figures, but require purchase of a couple of boxes to get a regiment in similar pose if that is what you prefer. The Perries have gone for a regiment per box, march attack, and I can see much merit in this solution. The downside is that the figures are much less multi-pose than the Victrix set. Interestingly, early shots of the Perry British show a bit more variety. If anything, the Victrix French are even more varied. Which is all good stuff for the Mad Converter Club (Mr M Siggins, member since 1975). And remember gentlemen, please always provide lots of spare heads, hats, packs, limbs, and equipment for the same reason.

Best of 2008

Strange. Looking back on last year’s list it seems that some of my favourite manufacturers have been low key for twelve months. Credit crunch again? Waiting to see what the Next Big Thing is? Tom Meier, Bob Murch, TAG, Conquest, West Wind, Graven Images and Ebob have been very quiet, just to name a handful. In Rackham’s case they have had major financial troubles, and I look forward to 2009 for their return to form – we are promised AT43 plastic kits! Others meanwhile have been pushing out figures faster than I can afford them – take a bow Artizan, Eureka and Brigade Games. Inevitably, for me, 2008 will be remembered as the year when those annoying zombie figures became ubiquitous, plastics arrived in force and, happily, Hinchliffe returned. Favourite game? The Coltishall WWI set up at Partizan.

Alban Miniatures’ Rifles

Anglian’s 28mm Abyssinian Campaign

Artizan’s Thrilling Tales

Artizan/Copplestone’s Kiss Kiss Bang Bang

Billy Bones Workshop’s ECW paper armies

Black Hat’s Tales of the Dragon Kings

Brigade Games’ Pirates

Companion’s 28mm Napoleonics

Dom’s Decals generally

Eureka’s Age of Reason and French Revolutionaries

Games Workshop’s Washes

HLBSCo’s Polar combat troops

Huzzah’s Old School Prussians

Italeri, Revell and Zvezda 1/72nd Plastics

Minden’s Seven Years War

Musketeer’s Irish War of Independence

Nexus’ Wings of War WWI planes

Obelisk’s Chinese Tong Characters

Perry Miniatures’ Plastics and metal Napoleonics

TAG’s Napoleonic Austrians

Trident Design’s 40mm AWI range

Too Fat Lardies’ Sharp Practice

Valiant’s Late Germans

Victrix’s Plastic 28mm Napoleonics

Tractor Plan

Last year, inspired by some friends, I sat down and worked out a strategy for dealing with the many unfinished (okay, unstarted) figure projects littering my life. Unoriginally, I called this the Tractor Plan and it was, with hindsight, tragically optimistic. I had hoped to finish a 20mm Egyptian army, at least sixty 28mm Sassanids, and about fifty 40mm Feudals. I just about managed the latter, plus a company of Valiant Germans, the abovementioned samurai, and around forty 30mm Napoleonics – mostly plastics. So I am scoring myself highly for effort, but not for volume or predictions. On the bright side, I got to play quite a few games and sold off some more lead.

This coming year I am going to keep plugging away at the Napoleonics and Samurai, tackle phase two of the 40mm Feudals (both Vanguard and First Legion are promising lovely new figures), and finally to build that 28mm ECW army I have been promising myself for thirty years. Plus, more converting, more buildings, more trees, more LOTR, more Pulp, and more game playing. And if I really work hard, I may even get a couple of rule sets finished. What a hobby this is.