Forward Observer 20

Low Key Marketing

I am often accused of hiding my light under a bushel. It is mainly me doing the accusing, in fairness, but there is some truth in the matter. This trait is shared by Keith Warren at Realistic Modelling Services. Keith sells an excellent range of rules under the Real Time Wargames brand, but can one easily find them on his website? Frankly, no! It is therefore my mission to put this to rights.

It was left to my friend Charles to discover the rules, buy them, and set up games to test them. Boy, am I glad he did. We have so far played the Marlburian set exclusively, but the Sudan, 1866, Seven Years War and Napoleonics have been digested and games are planned in the near future. So keen am I on the 1866 set that I have made figure counters… This selection accounts for just half the range, so we have a lot to look forward to.

In short, and no messing about here, these are some of the best rules I have seen since I started the hobby. Clever ideas, original mechanisms, unusual command perspectives, and decent or better history. Most importantly for this jaded old sausage, they are fresh, atmospheric, and they work. Okay, there are some minor queries, but nothing to worry about. Keith has a team of co-designers and developers that reads like a Who’s Who (a dreadful cliché, but true), and they have come up with some classy stuff.

Let me tell you about the Spanish Succession set, because that should hopefully convey my enthusiasm. There is a type of game where my opponents and I go very quiet, play solidly with no thought of abandoning, and find that three hours have slipped by, fully engrossed. We then look at each other knowing that we have experienced an excellent game (this is an odd mixture of surprise, relief, enjoyment, and re-affirmation of the hobby).  These are just such a set of rules.

essentially a matrix of locations, set in the Low Countries. A location may contain a fort, an impassable area, or other terrain. Each location is rated for foraging, but this is cleverly kept secret through use of a clever card system. Each side recruits their army, splits them into administrative units under commanders, and deploys onto the cramped map environment.  A tough, decision heavy game of manoeuvre, scouting, diplomacy and guile develops, where you must handle an overall plan, local strategies, and commanders of varying ability. Battles occur, which can be resolved using the system or fought separately with figures. The whole narrative unfolds superbly, feeling like the period. It is a mini-campaign that plays in the timeframe of a battle. I am deeply impressed.

Now I am not an expert on the Marlburian period, but like many of us I have read a bit over the years. The game seems to generate a lot of the flavour and history of the books, which is all I ask, while also giving us a fascinating game to play out. That combination seems to be the grail of wargame design, and here we have it for £6.50. I can’t recommend these rules highly enough, but do make sure you search the site – they are there! Sudan and 1866 next time.

Being Moved

Pete Waterman is an interesting chap. Rightly accused of inflicting some pretty vile music on our ears, as well as some good stuff, he is also a railway modeller, manufacturer and preserver adored by many in that cousin to our hobby. In short, he does some good work with his millions. He has a couple of books out at the moment, which sure enough meant he appeared on the radio. Chatting away happily about models, it was quite refreshing for someone to be doing this without reticence, and for the presenter (Simon Mayo) to be treating him with respect. The comment that struck home, and why I am waffling again, was that Pete felt that while music could give you that frisson, models could not. I have to disagree. There is no doubt that the visceral Nessun Dorma or Nimrod are hard to match, but I have certainly had the old spine tingle when viewing an outstanding game, model or paintjob.

Treemendus

Yes, it’s a pun, but fortunately not one of mine. Treemendus is a new company specialising in tree making materials and custom builds. This is a specialised art, in which I very much like to dabble. We nutters will go to great lengths to make a nice looking tree, and any help is welcomed. The added requirement for wargame trees is of course that they are tough enough to survive regular handling, squashing and storage. In this aim, Treemendus sell an excellent range of relevant materials.

One can start with the 12” wire lengths (£5), which are easily twisted into armatures and have an almost perfect balance between strength and ease of working. Depending on complexity, I can get about five really convincing tree forms from one pack. Next up is a bark mixture, which I have yet to purchase. While I would usually add readily available rubberised horsehair for branches, I do also use postiche for the more delicate types of tree. Treemendus sell this under the name of Canopy, and very good it is too. Finally, there is a range of foliage/scatter packs which are not only the right scale for 20mm to 28mm, but they also have impressive, realistic colour tones. If it helps convey my satisfaction, my first request was whether I could buy bigger bags! Treemendus also sell sheets of fur fabric in convenient sizes, which you can’t have failed to notice on the wargames circuit as long grass. The only negative here is the Treemendus name, for which I am docking him a point! Otherwise, highly recommended and well worth investigating. www.treemendusmodels.co.uk

Audible Belt Tightening

In the past I have moaned, perhaps too frequently, about the ever escalating price of metal figures. This is down to a number of reasons: becoming a grumpy old man; railing against the Ansell Assertion; gaining a mortgage; and being increasingly frustrated at seeing first £1 and then £2 per figure breached in some areas. In the end, because it seemed people kept buying regardless, I simply shut up and reverted to plastics, in the main.

To an extent I also mellowed. I took the view that paying a bit more would help keep some very talented individuals in work, if not Ferraris, and ultimately one cannot argue with market forces, even those working in our turbulent little niche. Metal prices went up, the economy is all over the shop (as you may have spotted) and £20 seems to barely get one out of the house.

I was also curious to see what the ‘natural’ level was, from an admittedly smug position of already having more lead than one man would ever need. But then along came plastics, the credit crunch, and what must be a very worrying period as far as discretionary retail purchases go. Frugality is the new buzzword, many of us are looking at the Lead Mountain and thinking, hmm, perhaps I should do something about that first. And of course more new, superb figures and models arrive every month to test my resolve…  I am not well attuned to Austerity. Whatever, this year or next, I think, there may have to be a pricing correction and I believe Renegade have made an astute business decision in their approach. What do you think?

Pigment Wars

Last time I reviewed the new Vallejo pigment sets and it seems that I was not alone in my concerns on relative pricing and performance. Later that month, a piece appeared on the MiG website comparing their own pigments with those from Vallejo, trying to explain why MiG’s cost rather more.  This article had an underlying indignant feel, and was about as convincing as a study by the Coffee Marketing Board on the undoubted health benefits of coffee.  But it prompted me to leap into action, so at the next opportunity I bought myself a large pot of Sennelier ochre artists’ pigment (£5) and experimented. In the frame we have MiG, Bragdon, Vallejo and Sennelier. MiG is the people’s favourite, and a tried and trusted runner. Bragdon is ridden by Chuck Doan, perhaps the world’s greatest modeller (controversial!), and so must be considered by the bookies. Vallejo are a well known stable, and Sennelier are the handicap horse.

In short, there are indeed differences. What is immediately clear is that the specialist pigments (MiG and Bragdon) are much more finely ground, and so look and feel different on the palette. These two also claim to have extra ingredients to promote adhesion. This would also appear to be true, as they both stick better when applied ‘dry’ than the others. What they also do, when mixed with thinners, alcohol or water, is settle exactly as one would expect them to. Vallejo were next best here, while the Sennelier needed a fair deal of working with an old brush to get it to lie down. Ironically, as a final comparison, I ground up some Unison pastels and these were perhaps the best of the lot! More tests to follow, and I would appreciate your findings.

Mike Siggins