Wargamer’s Notebook 14

I will apologise in advance this month as thanks to continuing ill health I have not been able to get to any shows, so the regular feedback on the lifeblood of the hobby, and my nominations for best game, are looking a bit ropey. I missed both Newbury and Tunbridge Wells, normally regulars on the Siggins calendar, and it looks as if I may miss Triples as well which will not please me one little bit. Hopefully I will be back to normal by Salute, and full of the joys of spring – when the old sap rises, I normally find at least one new period to get into, or at least buy a few figures and books to get me on my way. But it is only travelling that has to be avoided, so I am able to make it across to the keyboard to keep you posted on the latest developments. I bet you’re all pleased about that, eh?

It’s quite a small world really isn’t it? I was browsing around a small art gallery recently and came across the following reference to the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood: (I paraphrase) “This was a small body of artists formed to promote painting on white backgrounds using realistic, even bright, colours in tribute to the great Renaissance artists. It was a reaction to the prevalent trend of the day, to paint dull, deeply shadowed works which the PRB considered inferior and contrary to the ethos of fine art”. So even in 19th Century salon society they were effectively discussing black and white undercoat techniques. Their pictures were signed by the artist’s name followed by ‘PRB’, to designate their allegiance, and I’ll be painting this on my figure bases from now on.

I have made my peace with Wargames Developments. What may have seemed to have been an unseemly squabble over the last year was in fact steeped in history – as an ex-member, and indeed relative fan of their operation, I have simply become disenchanted with the way they had been going. I still think matrix games are the Emperor’s New Clothes, I still think they have some very good ideas that, probably in the spirit of amateurism, are sadly rarely pressed to completion and I still think they have more than a few PR problems, not least by giving the distinct impression that they are far and away superior to the rest of us – not least through The Nugget (a more elitist publication would be hard to find). I still hold these views, to which I am entitled, have made them clear to WD, and in the spirit of progress we have agreed to hold a mature discussion rather than a slanging match. So, I look forward to some more ideas from the men that do them best, and I will keep you posted on developments – the key word in their title.

Two very interesting sets of rules have been brought to my attention this month. I have not yet had the chance to play them, for the same reasons I haven’t been able to get to shows, but I have eagerly read them and think they could well be a major advance in some areas. TaC WWII is a set of innovative rules that cover brigade level actions and have some startlingly new systems – I am very keen to see how these work in practice. Even better though is Warring Empires, a set of rules for the late nineteenth century that predate my comments in the recent WI by laying out a series of clean, minimalist systems that are extremely refreshing. Again, more on these later. Both are designed by Chris Pringle, and available from Irregular Miniatures or direct from TaC Publications, 22 Mead Way, Kidlington, Oxford OX5 2BJ.

I want to concentrate the rest of this column on Wargames Foundry. My, what a surprise. I make this bold gesture not only because am I fast running out of superlatives, but still marvel at the productivity, skill and talent of these amazing people. The real problem is that they are still improving, and the latest batch of figures, spanning around 5,000 years of history, are, to my mind, the best yet.

Working forwards from the mists of time, we start with the new ancient Egyptians. In one of those weird quirks of fate, that alone make life worth living, I had been reading Terry Wise’s Ancient Armies of the Middle East (Osprey), thinking how nice it would be if someone did Rameses the Great in his war chariot from the Angus McBride painting. And the very next morning it appeared on my doorstep from the Perrys, complete with perfect pharaoh headgear, accompanying lion and outrunners. I kid you not. I was stunned. Mainly by the coincidence, and partly by the model. It is quite magnificent and will make a perfect centre piece for that Egyptian force, be it DBA, DBM or larger still. Also available are Egyptian civilians, and four new vignettes – Canaanite prisoners, an interrogation scene, soldiers practising combat with sticks and an Egyptian noble household. They are all good, but the latter group is my favourite, reminding me of those beautifully atmospheric flat figures painted by Mike Taylor – yes, another obscure weakness of mine. These have jumped right to the head of the painting queue, just in front of:

The new Bronze Age range which represent some of the first work by Michael Perry since his tragic accident. And what can I say about them? Apart from being one of my favourite periods, especially if they extend the range from the current Northern Europeans to the Mycaeneans, these figures are incredibly good, proving instantly that the man is ambidextrous. Some look like the earlier Citadels, with that excellent rough hewn quality in the faces, and there are others that are clearly of noble birth. These will suit Scandinavians, Brits, Irish, French and Germans for the period 1200-900BC, and presumably the odd two or three weeks on either side to allow substitution into other armies. An excellent departure, and what price the first model of a burial mound, menhirs, or perhaps even Stonehenge, at a show? And my fingers are crossed for Trojans (or whatever they are called by the experts these days).

I cannot let the Scots Greys pass without comment, since in that ironic way I have just completed painting my Connoisseur unit and am now immediately thinking about upgrading… They are also the archetypal wargames stand-by, being the first unit I ever saw at a club, and it seemed everyone had them, even if they were otherwise of the French persuasion! These are superb again, coming with bearskin covers and separate arms for the charging poses so you can make a stab at recreating Scotland Forever! The officer is wonderful – in a similar pose to the famous Ewart painting, his face is exquisite. The definitive Scots Greys? Yes, for this hobbyist.

But we close with the best of the batch, and a dangerous collection they are since after over twenty years of resisting ACW, I may finally crack with these latest masterpieces. The infantry in greatcoat and kepi, presumably usable for either side, are magnificent. Leaving aside the fact that there are head variants for the most important poses giving you are varied battle line, these are brilliant figures. Greatcoats are notoriously difficult to get right, sometimes looking as if they are made of clay, but these are billowy, hang and flow correctly, look as if they have a man, not a blob, underneath and capture the period perfectly. The kepis aren’t bad either! Add in a couple of nonchalant drummers, a few corncob beards and mighty impressive whiskers, and we have characters right out of Gettysburg.

I got a bit of a ticking off for my comments last month on re-enactors. As I am well aware, a lot of you are involved in it and even my heroes, the Perry Twins, have been known to don the odd uniform. But I can’t help what I think, since this more than anything is both a gut reaction to dressing up and a response to the attitude and preening of re-enactors at shows. I did draw the distinction between re-enacting in a field at Waterloo, or the Sealed Knot at Battle Abbey (which I have watched, and enjoyed) and poncing around in uniform (and shouting orders) in a London Hotel with members of the public who are there to look at books, medals, or models. Anyway, the other strength of the re-enactor is the growing range of books full of their pictures. Being as my taste is still largely Napoleonic, I have bought most of the Windrow & Greene volumes so far, and enjoyed them all – I find them useful not so much for uniforms, but more to get the image of troops in the field, what a large unit of men looks like, and such esoterica as how a cavalryman sits. The latest pair are perhaps the best of the lot – French Light Cavalry and German Armies. The latter includes both the KGL and Brunswickers in hundreds of superb colour photos, and with the Black Legion being my particular weakness these come recommended.