Wargamer’s Notebook 15

Although there are other important shows around the same time, Salute always psychologically signals the big start of the show season for this Londoner. And since they have somehow managed to lay on good weather for as many years as I can remember, and combine with the US Masters, the new baseball season and Paris-Roubaix on TV, it also marks the confirmation of Spring. The sap rises, the enthusiasm for new periods has to be fought off, one again vows to perfect that painting technique, and one wonders quite how another long, cold winter has slipped by without getting that army finished. One of the most awkward charms of Salute is that it puts so much temptation in your way: the new Foundry mega- stand, which looks so professional it throws the rest of the hobby into shade; the rather nice new 25mm figures from Battle Honours; a wall of seductive new books on the Hersant’s stand, straining from the hectic release schedules (shouldn’t there be some sort of law curbing these – like four books per year or something? How are we expected to keep up?); Steve Barber’s amazing buildings; the wonderful little Leonardo tank from Awesome Enterprises; Kevin Dallimore freely dispensing tips to anyone since none of us will ever get close to that amazing paint finish; the sheer enthusiasm of the punters (even the ones trying to brain you with their haversacks).

This year’s show was a good one. The crowds were back after the apparent 1996 drop and interestingly there were a noticeable number of women and youngsters mixed in with the usual droves of thirtysomethings (and older patrons). The games again featured a large number of science fiction subjects, most of which were well done, and several good historical games. The best of these, and my Game of the Month, was Puebla – a game of the French expedition to Mexico put on by the Victorian Military Society. Excellent terrain, some superb figures and a really helpful team of presenters. If this standard is repeated at their annual show at Chatham in June, and there is no reason it shouldn’t, it will be worth the long haul down there. Otherwise I have to say this new location is a retrograde step, and the time of year also leaves something to be desired. However, should you make the trip, please make sure you make time for the excellent Wooden Walls exhibition at Chatham Dockyard. The phrase hidden gem is overused, but this is a really first class museum and you will come out knowing more about men of war and their construction (the rope making demonstration alone is worth the money) than you’ll ever need to know. An unfair comparison perhaps, but I’d say this is twice as good as the Yorvik centre, which seems to get more than its fair share of hype.

The only disappointment at the show was my first opportunity to see the new Old Glory 25mm Napoleonics which appeared in the ads, en masse, the month before. I had heard all sorts of very good things about this massive range, not least regarding the Austrians and Russians. But I have to say that, when I reached the stand, I was completely underwhelmed. I think I know why Old Glory are held in such regard – because they offer such unarguably good bang for the buck in the States – but I am personally not willing to trade off quantity against quality to this extent. The figures (generalising here, as there are hundreds of castings and I saw but a fraction) are gawky, some are in what I would term unusable positions (remember the Airfix ‘hopeless cases’ that were discarded from every box? The mole digging Highlanders were best….) and quite a few are ‘flattened’. Add in the grab-bag selling technique, which means economies for the seller and theoretically for the buyer (but a lot of waste and a constant search for the decent poses drags up the average casting price), and we have an easy solution – instead of buying into these with their instant availability, lower cost and undoubted figure variety, I am happy to pay more and, if necessary, wait years for the Perries to sculpt some Pavlovs, Jaegers and the odd Brunswicker.

Steve Barber had a stand at the Spring Trade Fair in a nearby hotel and I have to say I have not been as excited about a range of resin buildings for a while. The main ones on display were ‘European’ – best categorised as big 25mm, timbered and vaguely Teutonic, which would not look out of place in a historical White Dwarf. Praise indeed. The really nice aspect is that the models come in several parts, so you can mix and match to get a variety of structures. The most impressive edifice is the Town Hall, which is huge, and even at £40 it still represents good value. Steve has a good selection built up already, including Spanish and Mediterranean ranges, and I recommend you check them out. 1 Avon Place, Hawkslade, Aylesbury, Bucks HP21 9LR.

Moving off from Steve’s stand, I was thinking about the relative sizes of model buildings and their visual, or tactical, impact. When you see as many demonstration games as I do, there is no doubting that buildings come in every shape and size. Some gamers value the imposing and massive central presence (Steve’s would fit in well here) while others are happy to stick a few Monopoly or Liliput Lane houses down to indicate a village. Both work in their own way, and I think it is important to recognise that, in many cases, a scale building will look way too big. As a result, I have often toyed with using 15mm Spanish buildings to simulate a 25mm Peninsula settlement, and of course there are the issues of taste and perspective in the equation. Worth looking at the next time you are at a show.

The Foundry release cycle is becoming embarrassing. Every month I gush manfully about the latest figures and then along comes another lot, usually surpassing the previous batch, thus ensuring they get their column inches and I run around like an idiot wondering what to paint and where to get my next superlative. So, I’ll tell you about the latest figures and then shut up. Well, for at least a month or so. First up are the new plains indians – Voice Like Thunder’s War Party – which says it all really. Superb. Then we get the SYW Russians. Also superb. And finally, the first of the 25mm Civil War rebs. Unbelievable. I am itching to paint these up into a unit, for the Foundry painting competition of course. No desires on starting an army. Oh no.

Vae Victis continues apace and, even if your French is sub O-Level, is well worth buying the occasional issue. The pictures alone are worth it. Every copy comes with a full colour boardgame and a recent hit has been Field of Battle which bears some relation to a well known three-letter set of rules starting with D and ending in M. Each month they provide another set of super little army counters, the latest being Visigoths and Gepids, which can be matched up against the dozen or so already supplied in past issues. The neat aspect here is that however prolific you may be as a painter, there is no substitute speed-wise for cutting out counters and having at it with armies that, while interesting, you may never get round to in lead.

The Battleground machine moves relentlessly on. Seemingly appearing at the rate of one title every couple of months, with Borodino next in line (cor!), the latest is Antietam. Always one of my favourite battle situations, it strikes me that the only Battleground design weakness (if that is what it is) is shown up more than before here, primarily because of its lack of command & control systems in a battle that was driven off the restrictions of communication and difficult terrain. However, the Battleground engine is gradually improving and it is hard to find much fault with it elsewhere. As usual, Empire Interactive are the importers and the title can be found at all good software outlets, as they say.

Book of the Month is either a re-issue, or a new haul of a book first printed in 1982 and which I have been seeking for a while. Standards and Colors of the American Revolution by Richardson is, to my knowledge, the definitive work on the subject and is packed full of information and superb colour plates. It is the sort of book, like Terry Wise’s Blandford and Osprey flag volumes, that has you itching to grab the brushes, flag making material of choice and the piano wire. Recommended, and Hersant’s have stocks if you hurry.