Forward Observer 6

Salsa, Guacamole, Hoummus

My opening topic this month is likely to raise some eyebrows. I want to talk about dips. No, not for your nachos, but the quick and dirty ‘painting’ technique that has gained much currency in recent years. In short, take a figure, dip him into noxious brown gloop, leave to dry: instant shading and highlights.

I hope you don’t find it too annoying if I say I looked down my nose at the concept. For any number of reasons, but mainly because it is an affront to my artistic sensibilities. And quite possibly cheating! Seriously, I think, like plastic figures last time, there is a general feeling of snobbery at work. I include myself in that accusation. Why? Largely because I really don’t like the look. Secondly, I like to paint, rather than produce huge armies to deadlines, so it makes little sense to shorten and spoil the enjoyable painting process in this way. It also betrays little empathy with those who can’t, or won’t, paint.

However, what is also important is to retain an open mind, so when I ran into Fanatic Army Painter (http://armypainter.fanatic.dk/) at the Essen game fair, I had to rethink my attitude. Here was a dip product that really looked good. So good that I stopped in my tracks and walked back to check out the Ogre army used to demonstrate it. I genuinely thought the figures had been painted and shaded, well, and if the producer is to be believed, they were good enough to win a GW army painting award.

In use, FAP couldn’t be simpler. All you do is block in your basic colours – choosing lighter colours than you actually want (obviously fantasy subjects are easier to calibrate than British red coats) – and then use the dip. It is a caramel colour, reminiscent of toffee, but where it scored for me was in the way it pooled properly in the depressions yet left the highlights strong. It works well on flesh heavy figures, and also makes armour (silver or bronze) look nicely antiqued. Whatever they have mixed it from makes for very nice transitions from minimal staining to quite decent shadows. As I said, I was impressed.

Don’t get me wrong. The ‘Magic Dip’ approach will never replace three or five shade painting, and if you are a collector rather than gamer, I can imagine you giving me a strange look for even suggesting it. The results are still ‘dark’, with exaggerated contrast, but I have to say that with minimal effort they look much better than block painted figures. And if you want to get large numbers of troops into the field, and to do that quickly, I can see precisely where this product will score. Consider my eyes opened.

There is one drawback. This product costs around £28 per tin. It will, I am assured, complete an entire Warhammer style army. I can hear you all scurrying off to the web for homemade equivalent recipes, but seriously, this is a really good product and worth the price – especially if you have 500 barbarians or skaven to put onto the table.

Projects

It is probably fair to say I am not enjoying some aspects of the hobby at the moment. Having realised my perception problem (see Forward Observer 3), most figures I look at these days seem to be more closely related to hobbits than humans:  huge heads, short legs, pipes, stumpy little sidearms, and barrel chests. Okay, so I lied about the pipes. My days of surfing the web, adding large numbers of tempting figures to my Wants List, are well behind me. Perhaps there is a silver lining after all.

That is not to say there are no pleasures left. There is a steady output from the plastics industry, plus the occasionally surprise, like the 18mms from Eureka, and then there are the few ‘go to’ companies like the Perries, Tom Meier and Conquest. I still await sight of Newline’s 20mm Samurai. I also find myself browsing through my flats catalogues, where you will never find any strange anatomies. I would like to add Games Workshop to the list, for their excellent Lord of the Rings range, but they are painfully expensive now – a box of six characters for £20? Hopefully the plastic Rangers will be better value.

I am also rather taken with 40mm figures. I have been flirting with the scale for a few years, prompted mainly by HLBSC, Perry and Graven Images, but hadn’t really noticed how many other ranges had crept out in that time. Having painted up some Sash & Sabre Saxons recently, I can vouch for their excellence. I am very taken with the look for skirmish games, and with their being easier to paint for these aging eyes. They also have a presence and heft that is hard to argue with – model soldier benefits at wargame prices.

Sadly, in places, we hit that old Catch 22 problem of incomplete or inconsistent ranges. As I have often said, this is inexcusable at any time, but much more so when you are trying to get people to switch wholesale into a new scale. Not only do you need a fullish catalogue for Side A, but you also need Side B (and preferably Side C) as well or the project becomes largely pointless. I can see how you would get round this by having Side A look the same as Side B (ECW, Wars of the Roses, or Samurai, for instance) but not if you are looking for an opponent for your distinctive Vikings.

Perhaps reflecting and confirming the above points, I have started my first project for 2007. I am going to build a small ancient Egyptian force using the excellent Caesar plastic 20mm figures. To an extent this is a leap of faith as one cannot currently buy plastic chariots (apart from the old Atlantic range) but I am sure these will come along in time. Work is underway, and I will send Henry some pictures.

Battlelore

As some of you know, I have another job in the wider hobby, that of boardgames commentator. In this role I am always on the lookout for potential crossover titles, that will work as self contained boardgames, but which are likely to appeal to those with a miniatures leaning. Just such a title is Battlelore, designed by Richard Borg and published by Days of Wonder. You should be able to find this title in any local game shop, or from web suppliers.

Battlelore is the fourth title in a growing series of games using a simple card driven system to recreate tactical battles. So far we have had WWII (Memoir 44), ACW (Battle Cry) and Ancients (Command & Colors). It is a fair bet that we will see Napoleonics in due time. Battlelore concerns itself with medievals and fantasy; strange bedfellows perhaps, and the former very much loses out to the latter in scope, as you might imagine. The game comes complete with small plastic figures, bases and marker flags, hex based terrain boards, a beautifully illustrated rulebook, magic cards and dice. In short, it is everything the younger gamer in your life might wish to find wrapped up as a present.

Why would one buy Battlelore rather than, say, the similarly priced starter set for Warhammer Fantasy? For a start it is a much more flexible system, and the generic nature of its goblins and humans (more races and monsters are coming) is a plus. You get a load of scenarios in the box, you can easily make up more, and there is always the battlemagic to add variety. For instance, I certainly want to set up a Battle of Five Armies game as soon as there are enough pieces.  Battlelore also scores highly because it is quick to learn, and quick to play – not much more than an hour per battle. There will also be an endless stream of unofficial and official scenarios.

Undoubtedly, Battlelore is going to score in the longer term through the expandability. While there are expansion sets for Memoir 44, these are by their nature ultimately limited. Fantasy knows no such boundaries. We can expect to see new figures, races, powers, and supporting cards and terrain until we simply can’t move for skeletons, ogres and dragons. Already, you can get an Earth Elemental who explodes out of the ground. As you can tell, this leaves me somewhat divided. I can see that the game will improve and remain fresh with new troop types, but it will be a big drain on cash! Highly recommended.