Wargamer’s Notebook 18

Late June means a short bus trip to Ilford for the ever interesting Rampage show. This year was no different, but was probably a little lacking in atmosphere compared to previous incarnations – fewer outstanding games and a reduced trade presence I guess. No reason for that I can work out, just an observation. I like Rampage because it is full of enthusiastic clubmen, and is partly manned by the smaller or more esoteric dealers and one can always find something new and interesting. This year it was a chance to have a fascinating chat with John Laing on the Awesome Enterprises stand, and to purchase some of his 15mm medievals and one of his superb little Leonardo tanks. I’d been eyeing these up for some months, and finally cracked. I’ve wanted a diversionary project for the summer months (which, technically, are hot and sunny, you may remember) as a relief from seemingly endless British Napoleonics and Renaissance Swiss, and this fitted the bill perfectly. The moulding is impeccable, the look just right, and it makes a perfect set piece for the corner of the table or the front of the display cabinet. Highly Recommended. The best game at the show, just beating out an impressive ACW game that was perhaps a little too ‘clean’, was the Shoeburyness boys’ Winter Wonderland. This was an incredible piece of terrain modelling, themed to the Ardennes offensive in 1944. The demonstrators were keen and informative, the models were excellent, the rules seemed fun, but the most impressive element was the handling of the light dusting of snow – easy to overdo, this was spot on. An excellent presentation.

Some of you will fondly remember Microprose’s attempt to corner the computer ‘miniatures’ market with Fields of Glory. It was a noble effort, which sadly fell short in a number of areas, and which has been somewhat eclipsed by the impressive Talonsoft titles of recent months. Now, at last, I am pleased to say Talonsoft has a rival and Fields of Glory has a worthy successor, albeit from a competitor. Mindscape’s Age of Rifles has been on the shelves for a while and I didn’t buy it because it is slightly out of period for me (1840-1905) and is part three of the Wargame Construction Set – a venture of which I’d bought the first two and was less than impressed. Anyway, I was loaned the game by a friend who insisted I should try it and I was not disappointed. In fact, apart from the odd battle that falls outside its impressive scope, it is extremely impressive. And unlike the Talonsoft approach, where you are obliged to wait for them to generate the next order of battle, AoR comes complete with a superb editor. Not just for battlefields and Orbats, but for, gasp, uniforms. Were I a betting man, I would say this system had been developed by a figure gamer. Who else would go the extra mile to provide over 200 different period jackets, tons of weapons, headgear, trousers, boots, kilts and boots, and even four horse colours, a camel, and three skin tones.

Using this impressive toolkit, one can make up just about any troop type for the period covered, and a few more besides – apart from the lack of bicornes and tricornes, you could go quite a way back. Indian guides in redcoats, or Apache scouts? No problem. Zulus, Mexicans, Fuzzy-Wuzzies, Austrian Jagers, Iron Brigade, Light Brigade, Zouaves, Prussian Cuirassiers, 24th Foot, Sikhs, Boxers? All there, and it looks the part. This is incredible stuff. Add to that a list of battles that includes all the main ACW encounters, Austro-Prussian, Franco-Prussian, Mexican American (Buena Vista is a corker), Russo-Japanese and a bucketful of colonial encounters. And if you get bored, there is already an expansion disk. In terms of value for money (or bang for buck, if you prefer) this knocks Talonsoft into last week, falling short only in terrain graphics. It is compact (running easily on my ailing DX33), quick, accessible, very playable and some of the battles (Konnigratz for one) are superb entertainment. Highly recommended, and if nothing else it’s great fun to create your own units and battles. Given the odd few hours, I’d try to pull off Quatre Bras. My only other comment is that of course we now want a Napoleonic and earlier horse & musket version…

It has been an interesting month. In that slow way feedback has of reaching me, it has taken a while for me to establish that my comments on some re-enactors went down like the proverbial lead balloon, and both Duncan and I find ourselves being accused, yet again, of bias. On the former, I am unrepentant. I do not include all re-enactors in the generalisation, just those I happened upon at the Napoleonic Fair – a sad and pompous bunch indeed, but typical of a fair proportion of the breed I suspect – and those odd people who (presumably) get a frisson from Nazi Regalia. I will hold up my hands to accusations of intolerance, but only because I genuinely think they do the hobby no good at all. And it is our hobby to which they have attached themselves, yet I cannot believe I am a minority of one? Do we really want to see SS Troopers strolling around shows, both inside and out? Perhaps though I have misjudged the situation. As for bias, there seems to be a substantial current of feeling that WI and Notebook are slanted towards The Foundry, and that there is a real danger of it turning into another White Dwarf. Well, speaking for myself, I am not going to explain yet again why I praise Foundry’s efforts and a basic analysis of recent issues will put the lie to Duncan’s ‘bias’. All I will say is that as soon as ANY other company comes up with 25mm figures to rival them (as have Gripping Beast in the last year) then I’ll be the first to trumpet that fact, in the same way that if a WD member produces a stunning rule set (as they probably will), then I’ll be first in line to buy one.

Which leads me to the latest releases from the now unified home of The Foundry. Those pesky injuns have long waited for some viable opponents, and at last they are here in the shape of the 7th Cavalry. Not your generic dusty blues from countless westerns, but a realistic looking, tough bunch of hard riders, lead by Custer himself, ably assisted by Sergeant O’Brien’s raw recruits. Again, superb work from Mark Copplestone and just itching to be painted up. The Perries have not been idle, and before launching into their mouthwatering Renaissance project, they have produced yet more of those stunning ACW Rebs. This time it is a rearguard which are nothing short of wonderful. The highlights? ACWH34 is a dignified officer, wearing a long coat and armed with pistol and sword, just breaking into a run, ACWH40 is a bugler caught perfectly in motion (very Troiani, these two), while ACWH25 is cocking the hammer of his musket, his face is a picture. Wonderful stuff, topped only by ACWH29, a prone figure reaching back for a cartridge – just take a look at the detail and anatomy of this chap and marvel. I can’t wait for the promised Buffalo Soldiers and Prussian Dragoons that are coming along ‘real soon now’.

Book of the Month is easy, given that Mr Bowden has not yet got his act together and finished his long awaited Austerlitz volume. So the winner is Bill Ottinger’s Historex Masterclass: Napoleonic Plastic Figure Modelling. I know what you are going to say here, what is Siggins up to reviewing books about 54mm models? Well, I’ll point you to the fact that a few enlightened souls use them for gaming, but mainly because this is an inspirational feast of uniforms, modelling skills, ideas and painting techniques that apply at whatever scale you favour (except perhaps 10mm and smaller). I suppose the only reservation is that Windrow & Greene, like Spellmount, have a worrying tendency to cut their prices (either intentionally or through availability in remainder shops) in a year’s time which rather puts one off of purchasing as ‘first kid on the block’. Whatever, this one is well worth full price and Hersant’s can supply as usual.