Forward Observer 9

Dazed and Confused

What a difference a month makes. There I was, reasonably focussed by my standards, starting and ready to push on with some long-considered projects, and all of a sudden: chaos. There are three causal factors here. Firstly, the sheer number of interesting periods and new/old scales out there at the moment. Secondly, my so-called friends giving me gifts, and leaping about into different projects with unheard of levels of enthusiasm. Thirdly, that I am so weak willed that I can be swayed by the mere offer of a lollipop.

I mentioned the AK47 movement last time. That was just the tip of the iceberg. This is what I am potentially dealing with at the moment, and my previous stance:

The Temptation                          The Former View

6mm ACW, Peter Pig rules         Zero previous interest

6mm Naps                                     Interested, but low priority.

1/144th Armour                            You must be joking.

*1/144th WWI air                         Always interested, but 1/300th

*15mm modern, AK47                Negative interest.

15mm WWII                                 Dyed in the Wool 20mm

*20mm WWII                               Keen, but inactive opponent

*28mm Age of Arthur                 Always appealing, but WAB?

28mm Spanish Civil War           Minimal interest.

*30mm Naps and/or 18th C        Blame Gaskin and Ray!

32mm Cowboys/Pirates              Non scale. Black Scorpion.

1/48th WWII                                 Tamiya inspired madness.

40mm Greeks                               Own 100+ 28mm already.

*40mm Naps                                All the Perries fault.

*40mm Wars of the Roses          All Brooks Miniatures fault.

*40mm ECW                                 Hadn’t even crossed my mind.

40mm Landsknechts                  Own 100+ 28mm already.

*40mm Dark Ages                       All Rob Santucci’s fault

Apologies for the list. Normally when columnists resort to a list they have reached the end of their imagination, the deadline is looming, or they are being lazy. Or all three. This is purely because I want to illustrate the level of confusion here. It is made far worse by the fact I am all of a sudden also wanting to game these weird and wonderful diversions. More on that below. Listing it has also helped me make the first cut. Those marked with an asterisk are the ones going to cause problems. The rest I can probably resist.

Truthfully, I feel as if I am being pulled in all directions. This is very good, in that ‘positive-unsettled-edgy-exciting’ way, but otherwise – financially, scenically, spacially, focusally – it is bloody annoying! For instance, in theory I can have one terrain set to multi-task across almost all the periods I like. Now I am dealing with several scales, ranging from 6mm to 40mm. No easy way of solving that one. It is clearly one of those situations where I take a deep breath, allow time to pass and review what appeals in a month’s time. It is the technique I use to prevent (most) impulse purchases. Let’s hope it works.

Trees

This month I have mainly been making trees. I saw some being made on Phil Olley’s inspirational website and thought, yes, that is what I want to do at the moment. I set out to make some Scots Pines (modelled on some close to my house) and ended up making four pines, a cherry, six dead trees and four oaky type confections. The pines I made from dowel, and Woodland Scenics foliage. They look good, and unusual. The oaks I made using some windfall twigs, and they will make good, large gaming trees. The others I made using the twisted wire approach shown on Phil’s site. I was very pleased with the results but found I had to stop after a few trees because my fingers were in shreds. It seems the act of twisting is quite abrasive, and eventually it broke the skin in several places. Time for the Marigold gloves.

Sandbagged

Pegasus Hobbies do an interesting, eclectic range of plastic models. Their latest release moves into resin, and is rather good. We are talking sandbag walls, just about perfect for 28mm, edging towards impressive fortification for 20mm – think Zulu mealie bag ramparts. Still, a 1/72nd Revell Panzergrenadier can just fire over the top, because I did a laboratory test. There are two packs available, one with six identical six inch straights, and the other has corner sections. Packs cost £10 each, but if I tell you they are superbly moulded and textured, realistic looking, and properly pre-painted, I suspect you will find that a bargain. I have put in my order already. They also have walls and fences, and some oil drums that are

The Tufty Club

Let’s face it, we have all struggled to get upright static grass onto our bases. All sorts of techniques have been suggested. Some favour tweezers, others the ‘immerse and shake’, still others the ‘glue, wait and invert’. Some poor saps (like me) even bought the infamous Puffer Dispenser, reputed to impart a powerful static charge as you squirted the stuff all over the carpet and up your nose, but which was in reality just a plastic bottle. Nowadays, Noch sell the GrasMaster, a £120 gun to fire the stuff en masse. Flock wallpaper made easy. Just make sure you keep pets, girlfriends, expensive clothes etc well out of the way.

But really, all we want is a little clump or two, standing to attention. My friends, the pain is over. Silflor, who already do some amazing grass mats and scenery, have introduced Tufts. These are small clumps of static grass in nicely varied sizes, on a sticky backing sheet. You just peel the tufts off individually and plant them on the base. That’s it. Trim and drybrush to taste. They come in four colours, including a useful neutral for dead grass or desert bases. At £4 per sheet in one colour some may regard them as expensive, but they are going to save you a lot of time and frustration as well as looking great. You can buy them in the UK from International Models, and on the web.

WoW

Not World of Warcraft, but Wings of War. Against my better judgement I bought four of the twelve 1/144th biplanes recently launched – two Spad and two Albatros. These come ready painted and decalled, with clear stands, and I have to say they are very good indeed. Both size and quality of finish is impressive. Only the lack of a pilot figure spoils the overall effect. Wings of War is a game I get to play two or three times a year, at least, simply because it goes down so well with so many people. These planes will make that experience rather better, and of course can be easily switched to other rule sets.

AT43

I have been eyeing up this fantastic looking game for some months. Deploying the same restraint mentioned above, I have not bought into it. Believe me, I wanted to. Fortunately a wealthy friend took the leap for me, and we eagerly set up a game. The first three scenarios are programmed to teach the system, and if I may make so bold, are largely pointless affairs if you are a gamer of any experience.

By the fourth encounter, we had something to get out teeth into. Sadly, the game seems to revolve around over powerful initiative and deadly weapons. In short, if you get the first shot, and you hit, then the target goes down. Not too interesting. I am sure this would improve as more and more different types of troops are included, but then avoiding purchases was where we came in.

I will certainly revisit the game, but at the moment, as with Confrontation, I am not seeing enough of interest in the system to convince me to commit. It doesn’t do anything to get away from that base level of just shooting the other guy. There is some manoeuvre amongst the tunnels and doors, there is decent atmosphere, but essentially you are taking down the opposition. If I am in the mood for that sort of thing, which is very rare, I would rather play Space Hulk. I shall have to console myself by buying some of the gorgeous AT43 mechs and sticking them on the shelf.

AK47

More letters and numbers.

Some of you know, and others will have spotted, that I have endured something of a game drought. This is partly down to having moved house, partly lack of opponents, partly living in the back of beyond, but mainly my losing interest in the gaming side of the hobby. I had dropped to about six games per year, but in the last three months interest dried up completely. Still painting, still making terrain; just no desire to stage or play a game. Not sure why, though I am sure the moral side of things sometimes gets to me. At the moment, I can safely say I am cured (video: man leaping around the room, arms waving). In short, I haven’t been this enthused by the hobby since 1981.

The medicine that fixed me was Peter Pig’s AK47. Now that in itself is a surprising sentence. I could never see myself playing modern games, let alone wars in Africa. The rules have been on my shelf for some years, and they were there only for reference. But there was a spark, from a friend of mine, and just like the old days, it caught and before we knew it five of us were engulfed in enthusiasm. It was like the 1970’s all over again. My eyes opened; no period was taboo. By the end of the first week I had bought and painted a small force, doubling my previous 15mm painting totals. More AK47 lead is on the workbench, including a Foreign Legion company and some Special Forces. In the last month we have played three games, and there would have been more if we could have got together. I sometimes spend an hour or two planning new forces. It’s sheer madness, cap’n.

I suppose one has to ask why. I think the rules start on a strong footing. They let you build an army to your taste, fictitious in the main, but always identifiable as something attached to reality. One needs new terrain, and the orange craft paints come out for the first time.  Even the trees are weird. There is a lot of rust, dust and crumbling architecture, and no one is ever going to say your camo scheme is incorrect. This building and collecting is quite infectious, and soon one is reading about variants to the rules and wondering if the game would work in South America or the Falklands.

And that all before one gets to play. Immediately one encounters the clever pre-game procedures that define many of Martin Goddard’s rules. Political and religious doctrine comes into play, wild events take place, terrain rules generate some intriguing battlefields, and then you may not even get to use all your troops. The battles take place in isolation, but seem to have a credible backstory. I often find that a mark of a good game is that you feel tired at the end, even a little drained – this was always the case with AK47.

As for the system, we are treated to some neat ideas. Mechanisms for combat, morale, movement, line of sight, even helicopters, all deliver interesting and entertaining outcomes and are presented elegantly. There can be quite a lot of dicing, and we didn’t find the games particularly fast (around 3 to 4 hours) but every single one of them was an epic struggle, strong in narrative, heroic units, blunders and believable twists and turns.

This is, in almost all respects, a cracking set of rules. It sets up an interesting game situation, there is a good dollop of chaos, it has plenty of flavour, and most importantly it is a lot of fun. I suspect that a marked absence of the latter was at the root of my problems. There is an almost freeform quality to choosing armies, despite the guidelines, and each force feels individual. Like your own, really. And there can’t be many rules that have you build and paint lots of units, only to find you may not be able to use them in the battle… not exactly how I started out in gaming.

So, I can now see exactly why the game has several websites dedicated to fictitious nations and forces, I can see why it has such a following, and yes, I know I am very much an arriviste. I am so inspired that I have already adopted some of the systems and philosophy for other periods, and I spent last weekend reading through all the Peter Pig rulesets, wondering how I was going to try them.

It is good to be back.