Wargamer’s Notebook 26

He’s back, and this time he’s irregular. With your editor’s approval, my plan is to downgrade Notebook from its previous monthly schedule to roughly quarterly. The reason is that with a change in lifestyle I am getting to fewer shows than I did, the hobby thus enjoys a slightly lower profile, and there probably isn’t enough material to support twelve outings. It also takes the deadline pressure off me somewhat. With Duncan stressed out once a month getting this beauty to the printers, no sense in two of us entering an early grave (!). The other reason is that the, er, detractors can take pleasure in issues that will be Siggins Free Zones. Since I have received yer actual real hate mail during my break (the appropriate authorities have been informed), I hope this tones matters down a little and keeps your collective blood pressure in check. This is a hobby after all, and all I offer is opinions on that hobby. I don’t do the controversials – politics, religion, music or even England team selection – which is a good job; I’d probably be dead by now. I am however naive enough to believe that without opinions it would be a dull world indeed, it just seems the stating of such views gets some people a little hot under the collar. Do they not discuss contentious issues in real life? Is the meaning of debate and dialogue a mystery to them? Or is knee-jerk and intolerant as evolved as these people get?

I did a page on the missed opportunity that was Game of War, I’ll need little more than a paragraph to say how good I thought the Trajan episode of Timewatch was. By sheer good fortune I was sitting writing and half listening to the TV (multi-tasking is common for the Siggins brain) and I could hear something boring. The News, I think. So I channel surfed and picked up some historical terms on radar. Soon after, I wasn’t writing anymore. This was a brilliant programme, I just wish I’d taped it. Aside from the great figures and terrain, which were of course utilised perfectly to convey the message, the script alone was gripping stuff. I have never before been so interested in this ancient period that seems so popular despite the best endeavours of Slingshot to make it appear deadly dull. Now it has been made to sparkle, I can definitely see the appeal. Cripes, I nearly got my unpainted Dacians out on the spot. Nearly. And I have a formal complaint to all career teachers out there. Mine suggested I might wish to work in a bank, or perhaps in accountancy. Did they mention Experimental Archaeologist as a potential vocation? Did they heck. It seems the chance to get paid to make and test ancient weapons, or leap off of siege towers, or perhaps hurl a few caltrops at football hooligans would be an absolutely ideal job.

I must admit I rode out the small storms on Foundry policy without much concern. The first complaints I heard were because of the decision to start blister packaging. It was deemed “one more step towards another Games Workshop” and the hackles were up. This seems to have died out as quickly as it appeared and was, I guess, a simple reluctance to change. I like poring over the trays and picking out individual figures, but this is clearly a commercial necessity. Anyway, if you buy the deals, the result is cheaper figures anyway. The next big hubbub was positive – Copplestone had broken ranks again, probably a reaction to sculpting SYW figures in his sleep, and Darkest Africa was on its way. Trousers were being wet all over the place. Initially, I wondered why. If anything, it was a step off into fantasy land (especially since many of the proponents wanted to use GDW’s Space 1899 rules, steam spaceships and fight in Martian Jungles), lacking in scenario scope and, almost, non-military (if you see what I mean). Many will regard the latter as a bonus, so perhaps that is the answer. But when I saw the figures, and then the game at Partizan, I was completely sold. Right now, I am looking forward to painting my bearers!

I am also trying hard to resist a new period. Although my love for Napoleonics is well documented, I must admit my main ‘atmosphere’ period is the Revolutionary period and Napoleon’s Egyptian Campaigns. The recent arrival of the Elite figures, and seeing them painted up nicely in all their violet-jacketed glory has really set the pulse racing, and of course there are also the very nice Dixon French figures for the same period. I can’t say I am overly keen on these two company’s output in general, but these ranges really are appealing and nicely executed. I haven’t dared check to see if either does Dromedaires yet or that would be it….

So, to Newark. The first Sunday Partizan had a slightly dislocated feel, and suffered from severe weekend engineering works on the GNER from London, but the courtesy bus was waiting on cue for us (a friend of mine came over from California to see what I have been raving about for years) and the extra hall space was well used and appreciated. The games? Oh yes, a few all- time classics as usual. The eminent gentlemen of the League of Augsburg had a snowball fight between what seemed to be two bands of warring Scots, albeit with one side lead by the English. Fantastic as ever, you’ll have seen the pictures in issue 130. They have solved my basing dilemma as well – they have switched to 60mm squares and fill each one with a diorama (including water effects on some!) or a well placed line of troops. I like it, now all need to do is convince my opponents. Paul & Dean (sounds like a cinema ad – baba baba baba…) did the Welsh Wars, from scratch, with superb terrain, figures and some excellent wildlife and apparently have been working on it, on and off, since last Partizan. I think that is just slacking basically and I expect to see another completely new game by August.

Mark Copplestone fuelled the forthcoming mad rush to the jungles by putting on the first Darkest Africa game using his own figures and a wealth of plastic flora which looked just right. And if nothing else it brought to life all those books I’ve read, even down to the native face paint. The buildings too were outstanding – roofs were made from that railway modelling grass mat ‘combed’ into layers. Dave Andrews and friends had an understated WWII game that seemed to have a cloaking device. Hardly anyone was looking at it, but it was there, it was small, atmospheric and detailed, with amazing terrain and vehicles, and it was wonderful. The Perries, of course, had the huge “remnants” of the Trajan display and this was well attended at all times, and flanked by the new Warhammer rules it made for a great spectacle. Better still was the Derby club’s Wild West game. Some months back I said to expect a lot of Wild West games, populated and inspired by the Foundry ranges. But I didn’t expect work of this standard. I go back a long way in Western Gunfights, but I have never seen such good cowboy buildings and the overall effect was stunning – they displayed a tonality and realism that was hard to credit. It almost looked like a miniature film set, but lost an entire point because of the lack of tumbleweed! But my personal favourite, and I apologise because I can’t read my handwriting for the club credit (West Hull?), was the Battle of Lissa that was tucked away in the back room. We looked. We looked closer. We stayed for half an hour chatting. Fantastic coastal terrain, using Langton’s little building gems, realistic water and two massive scratched or modified fleets that had everything right. This was modelling rather than wargame standard. Best of all, once we broke the silence and asked questions about the game, the usual bottomless vat of enthusiasm was tapped. Brilliant stuff, worth the long trips every year, and still the best show in Britain. For what it is worth, my Californian friend had a great time as well.

In my last column I mentioned ‘Woodens’, 30mm laser cut flat wooden figures pre-coloured for your gaming convenience. Now I have some. Er, wow. These are incredible. I got some Arabs and Foreign Legion, and they are just perfect for skirmish gaming. Take them out of the box and you are ready to go, the colour schemes need no work at all. The detail is there too – the belt feed on the machine gun is a remarkable piece of work. The figure poses are well assorted and if you were to buy all the boxes (not exactly a mortgage job, but close) you’d have a great selection. Personally, I like the bedouin camels best. Windcatcher Graphics, 1902 Prelude Drive, Vienna, VA 22182-3346, USA.

I have been trying out Winsor & Newton’s new Artisan oil paints and enjoying the results. These are notable for two reasons: they are water soluble, so no more nasty thinners – I can’t honestly say there is any difference now between the traditional formula and these, so impressive is the modern paint technology, and they are even better for washes. Secondly, and this is subjective, they are actually better for painting horses. The modern artists oils had become rather ‘buttery’ and dried to a sheen that didn’t capture horses as well as my much- squeezed twenty year old Burnt Umber did. That was a tube of student standard colour, as recommended to me by Max Longhurst at Waterloo Day in 1975, which doesn’t seem to be available any more. But the Artisan Burnt Umber is very close – scrubbed on, pulled off with a sponge or cotton bud, and then dabbed with yellow ochre, the result is near ideal. And much less smelly.

It seems most figure manufacturers have a range of pirates these days, or even if they don’t they sell figures (Moors, 18th Century officers etc) that will serve double duty. But what to put them on? Thomas Foss has the answer. He produces a range of resin 25mm waterline hulls with sails, big guns, pivot guns, islands, trees and even sunken ships that are, in a word, incredible. Superbly sculpted, right sized – well painted, they look great. He even sells a set of fun rules to use with them. I think the range could be very, very popular over here. Given that I don’t have encyclopaedic knowledge, I think it is much better than anything I’ve seen here in the UK (but I would love to hear to the contrary). Meanwhile, I am completely bowled over. To go slightly wider and hopefully explain why, for some months I had almost lost the belief that ‘modelling’/craftsmanship/painting (call it what you will) had any real merit. My own efforts at painting are, largely, executed in a vacuum and it is only going along to shows and seeing quality work, sharing somehow a common thread of creativity with people who understand, that makes it all worthwhile. Reactions from friends and family have tended towards ambivalence, with a few exceptions at both extremes. What it all means, oddly enough, is that Thomas’s spark of enthusiasm, evident in his rules and product range, has re-kindled my excitement for the hobby. Not bad for a few resin ships eh? Thomas Foss can be reached at 1631 40th Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94122, USA.

I have Warhammer Ancient Battles and while I haven’t played yet, I have read it and think it is going to be huge. If nothing else it will be fascinating to see what their impact will be and if, as we have wished for ages, whether there will be any noticeable crossover from the Gorkamorka Boyz. While I am not going to rave over the rules themselves (and doubt I will change tack greatly even when I have tried them), I think they work well enough, that the pitch is just right, and combined with the pictures, the how-to-paint and how-to-start sections they are streets ahead of the opposition. Personally I was a little disappointed to see so few army lists in such a thick book, and I assume more will become available at a price, but that, and saving rolls (!), are my only initial gripes. I’ll report back when I have explored them and listened to the inevitable comments around the hobby. And for the cynics, just imagine buying this book or getting it from the library when you were 12, or 13, and dead keen. Now do you see why it will work?

Did I mention that the friend from California, Ken Tidwell, is completely bonkers? He has recently purchased a vast quantity of medieval PlayMobil figures (he buys by weight, not numbers, and we spent much of a recent train trip searching out rare European “special editions”) and has conducted garden and room sized battles with same. Using DBM rules and hundreds of the little swappable bodies, with camps, artillery and the full gubbins, they had at it with some style. The hilarious (but low resolution) photographic results can be seen at www.gamecabinet.com but he has promised better images for your future delectation in WI.

Finally, many thanks for the supportive letters during my break – I never expected to be equated to a suppository, especially as a compliment! Anyone who wishes to discuss rather than abuse can write to me at the usual address.