Forward Observer 7

Trends

As regular readers know, I like to watch the hobby for trends. Some years ago they were easy to spot. Cowboys, Pirates, Darkest Africa, Dinosaurs… And then… nothing readily discernible. Perhaps a glimmer for Back of Beyond and Pulp games, a significant (but doomed?) rally for 28mm WWII and WWI, and a definite underground movement forming for 40mm. Nice to see the latter, considering my comments below.

This lack of one driving force is both good and bad. Good because we see a wide range of periods represented, and some innovative games and ranges looking to find something original. I have no problem with such diversity, even if that means 1/500th Napoleonics (due soon from 1st Virtual, and rather nice) or Action Man scale tanks. On the downside, it leaves some manufacturers wondering where to go next. They try new periods, new scales, they come back to a staple like Napoleonics, they go off again on some other venture.

Both manufacturers and traders are looking for next big thing, but the quicker the turnover of these ideas (fads, to be uncharitable) the less chance of a movement taking hold. However, there are signs that one of the drivers for business and for games, demo and tournament, are the WAB supplements. For the last few weeks trader and web activity, and emails, have reflected the release of Age of Arthur. Friends, and I, are choosing our favourites from the armies on offer and mentally building armies. I almost certainly won’t play with them, but it is fun to speculate. All of a sudden, as well as the Gripping Beast stalwarts, there are other tempting Dark Age figures, and flags, competing for our dollar. In the same vein, it is not difficult to spot the approaching ranks of Samurai figures, jostling for position as Divine Wind nears publication. I think the same is probably true of Flames of War, with flurries of activity when a new supplement appears.

Musing on Minimalism

I have always strived for the maximum possible pleasure from my workbench. Assessing my recent output, this is clearly not measured only by projects completed. It is more a … tool thing. I have always figured that it is best to have all possible tools available at all times. It improves the experience of the hobby, it makes one, well, somehow a better person (!).  Inevitably, duplicates appear. At the last count I had five scalpels. I long ago lost count of needle files. Brushes? Pots of ‘em.

I am happy with this approach until I encounter the minimalist. These people are very productive, and seem to turn out their own original sculpts and beautiful armies with little more than a knife and a file. One of my friends works on a small Davenport which has a surface area of about one square foot. I have fifteen square feet, plus storage, yet still manage to produce less, and be forced to work in a six inch square crater. Perhaps that is just untidiness.

More frustrating are the frugal painters. I am quite proud of my hundreds of paint pots. These draw admiring comments such as, “Can you possibly use all this in one life time?” and “Are you barmy?” Meanwhile our under-equipped chums mix all the colours they ever need from six pots of Humbrol. How do they do that? I suspect they listened attentively in art class when primary and secondary colours came up.

40mm

I still can’t tell you precisely why, but after a couple of years slowly deliberating, I am now very much a convert to 40mm. While it seems an arbitrary departure for some, and consistently draws negative comment from hardcore 28mm fans on web fora, the scale has probably now reached critical mass. When the likes of Front Rank join the fray, you know there is something to take notice of. And while I know it goes against all the logic of being a long term 25/28/30mm gamer, and it means my scenery might need revising (but then again it might not), the simple explanation is this: when I look at a 25mm figure these days, they appear tiny. Unpaintably tiny. This, as discussed before, is a function of declining eyesight, increasing detail and, I’m sure, the comparative presence of said 40mms. I also really like painting the larger figures, and they are obviously a step closer to merging two, or even three, of my interests: gaming, model soldiers and painting.

So, inspired by my mate Rob Santucci’s Vikings, I have been dabbling with Sash & Sabre’s 40mm Saxons. I am very pleased with the results. Twenty or so of these guys grouped in a small unit has a real presence, and the price (£30 for 20) is just about right. When the ranges fill out, show a bit less animation, and if sculpt and pose quality remains consistent, I can see these as a large part of my future plans.

In the background there are other candidates. The Perries are still up there at the top and it is just a matter of time and finances before I get hold of some. I have lost track of the excellent Trident medieval range, but I suspect the same sculptor has recently popped up in the States with an AWI range. Drabant remain highly appealing, but a bit too expensive. Ditto Doug Miller’s figures, but I must have some of these. I got very excited about Front Rank’s new AWI range for a day or two, but sadly they have misjudged the pricing level by a factor of two. Sash & Sabre, who have the pricing right, meanwhile have Landsknecht packs arriving any day, and are threatening Greek Hoplites this summer, which will see me handing over the credit card and throwing caution to the winds. I am trying hard not to look at Graven Image’s Feudals for fear of bankruptcy.

I suppose I could join the internet snipers who bemoan a figure’s scale when I see Fox’s beautiful 1/48th WWII range sculpted by Tom Meier, and the excellent wild west figures from Black Scorpion. These are smaller than 40mm but bigger than 28mm; significantly, in both cases. They don’t, like 40mms, ‘fit’ anywhere unless you have a Tamiya fetish (I do, since 1974…). For the manufacturer, it is all about doing whatever they feel will sell and if the Tamiya 1/48th output is a sign, then Fox are onto a winner. For me, I have to work out whether the Black Scorpions justify a stand alone project that can somehow sit alongside my existing 28mm wild west. You can tell I am wavering.

For those purists who worry about me, never fear: the 20mm passion (WWII and plastics) is still very much there and the workbench has Egyptians and Sherden underway. Plus, I have more 28mm in reserve than I will ever get round to painting, with new temptation coming right along. I am adjusting the portfolio mix a bit, that is all.

28mm

For a year or more I have bought very few 28mms. The odd Bolt Action pack, Anglian Miniatures, and Artizan – mainly cowboys, and those lovely new pirates. I also bought quite a few eBobs, with which I am very pleased indeed. But at the turn of the year it became apparent that I might have a shot at being Lead Neutral in 2007 – for every figure bought, I would sell or paint one, or ideally two or three. That way I felt I could justify continued, relatively guilt free purchases, because I have surely long since run out of plausible excuses. And then, all of a sudden, along came a whole load of tempting new ranges.

I mentioned a lot of Samurai. Three very nice ranges have caught my eye. Museum Miniatures have an unusual selection, of quite decent figures, if a bit smooth in look. The have a giant war drum, the proper name for which I cannot recall, but which always reminds me of the excellent Kodo drummer ensemble. I shall be adding a couple to the command stand.

Black Hat’s early Samurai releases, set for Salute, also look very tempting, and the are promising a large number of packs. I don’t think I need or want any more ninjas, and I am doubtful about the unarmoured figures, but there are some tempting poses and I do like the period. More expense! Along with Kingsford’s new releases, which include a rather tasty mounted figure, and the Perries’ steady addition of new poses, I am somewhat spoilt. I will have to get a firm handle on which figures are compatible with which, and try to reconcile the 300 year spread of the figures… I also see more of the excellent John Jenkins buildings (available from TM Terrain in the UK) making an appearance on the credit card statement.

Hard to sniff at that lot, and nor would I, but my highlights this month have been the latest Pulp figures from Artizan, which have pretty much completed all my wants in the era (and continue to show anatomical improvement), and the excellent knights from eBob that land slap bang on my 1250 favourite era.

It is going to be an expensive Spring. I had better sell some more lead.