Wargamer’s Notebook 27

The switch to quarterly was a good move. I now have more than enough to write about, so much so that I will probably throw in another one next month. Isn’t that always the way though? Nothing comes along for ages, and then all of a sudden there is a flurry of activity – rules, figures, shows, shops, books and stories to tell.

The Savage Pen seem to have drawn some of my flak, for which I am very grateful! I can’t comment on much of what he says since club finances have never been of much interest or relevance to me. I work on the basis that if a club is going to do all the hard work in putting on a show (and let us not underestimate that considerable financial risk, workload and stress) then it is pretty much up to them what they spend the money on. If they use it to further the hobby, or buy club troops for beginners, or go out for a slap up Christmas meal at Spud U Like, great. If they play paintball, well also great (but personally I could probably think of better use for the funds). The point we shouldn’t forget is that these are small clubs. We are not talking assets and funds to rival Nomura or Halifax PLC.

What seems to be more pertinent to me is the notion that shows should be free to those attending. An interesting view, and one that made me think about what I get from an event. I do about ten shows a year and I would say that one aspect is probably almost intangible – the chance to see what is happening, get a feel for trends, to meet people and chat with friends. But there are also the games, and sometimes even a modelling competition as well, which I very much like to see. It shows me the latest techniques, the periods and scales in favour, terrain standards and ideas and, importantly, it fires up the enthusiasm like nothing else I know.

Plus, there are the much appreciated traders. Rarely does a show go by without me buying a few new figures, or paint, or rules, and certainly more books than I really need from the seductive siren that is Nancy at Hersants. And I always look in the cabinets to see the latest exciting figures – Foundry Picts, Pirates and Darkest Africa, Gripping Beast Arthurians, Tenth Legion, Redoubt’s Trojans, even Old Glory’s Landsknechts have been recent highlights, and I am just not going to see them anywhere else in the flesh. So to ask me for a couple of quid entry for up to a day’s entertainment, or even a fiver, is by far the best bargain I can imagine. Long may it be so, as long as they keep the queues under control. Bear in mind a film will cost you a tenner in London now, a magazine anything from £2 to £5, and goodness knows how much a paperback book or CD will be next month.

Shows are great, positive and I remain keen to go to most of them. Those that do not deliver enough to draw me and other punters, in that inevitable way of capitalism, will eventually fall by the wayside. So to say there are too many shows nowadays may just be a phase before we are saying, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a show to go to this weekend?” I think the current freedom of choice is a good thing and when we reach equilibrium, whatever that may be, we can review the situation (and why is there such an obvious gaping hole around December/January/February? Christmas I understand, the other ten weeks would seem to be ideal times. Apart from snow perhaps.).

Talking of shows, I particularly enjoyed SELWG this year. Apart from the fact that it now clashes with my pilgrimage to Essen every year, necessitating a curtailed trip abroad, the show is still reliably one of the best, and is getting better. This year saw an exciting feel to new releases – lots of impressive buildings in the main – and some extremely nice games – two by the Eastbourne faction, SELWG’s own Sharpe skirmish, and an excellent ancient game by the Fire & Steel Club. Indeed, in respect of the games SELWG was rather better than Partizan II which seemed to suffer a slightly lower standard overall, albeit with highlights such as the League of Augsburg, a fantastic skirmish game with Comanches and Spanish Hussars (!), Bog a Ten (yes, I am sorely tempted to buy dinosaurs…) and several railway games – I thought I’d walked into a model railway show by mistake. The lovely Romans vs Arthurian game takes the top award though, even though it was based on those awful Bernard Cornwell books.

At Partizan, Rob Baker had half a Cape Wars game with some very atmospheric terrain and his tempting figures. When asked how he had done his scrubby vegetation, he revealed a section of plastic foliage bought from a tropical fish shop. It looked great, so I’ve spent the last month searching out aquatic outlets to, thus far, no avail. They have plenty of plants, but none that look anything like Rob’s. I will keep looking, but meanwhile I am in dire danger of starting another hobby – tropical fish. I rather like all the Angel Fish I’ve seen…. Oh, and what I didn’t know until recently is that Rob Baker is the same Rob Baker who crafted the Historex figures I much admired back in my modelling days – he actually made the famous catalogue with several of his models, which is praise indeed. Thanks Rob.

I am not sure if you will be familiar with this, but I have a problem. I would term it ‘reference material overload’. Over the years I have built up anything that might be considered interesting or useful – mainly Napoleonic stuff of course, but a lot else besides. This is not only books, but postcards, plates, leaflets, pages from magazines, graphic novels, games, trading cards, computer CDs, and a collection of magazines and journals that threatens to squash the house. Oh, and even pictures on the wall. The problem is, how to pull all this together and access it when you need to? I forget half of it, I’m sure.

Let me take an example. I am painting Brunswick Lancers 1815, at present. At a guess I have half a dozen different reference sources out there somewhere – an Osprey, the Lachouque book for the Beaufort plate, a couple of German texts, painting guides, museum guidebooks, probably some uniform plates tucked away and a couple of general books. Plus Military Modelling must have something somewhere in the 25 volumes, and sundry wargame magazines pictures for black clothing technique and inspiration. But unless I access all those efficiently – now, while I am focused on the subject – then their purchase has been somewhat ineffectual. It all needs to be somehow cross referenced, on a CD Rom or the Web, and I could just type “Brunswick” and it would all pop up and tell me where it is. Trouble is that would take a lifetime to prepare, and I think we still only get given the one. The answer is probably that I simply have too much stuff, and I can both see why there is an archivist profession and Ospreys are so popular!

None of this stops me buying more and more books, mainly it must be said on uniforms these days, or what the French magazine Vae Victis calls ‘inspi’ – inspirational material. My latest visits to Hersants saw me stagger away with two French books by Job illustrating Napoleon and Bonaparte in his inimitable style; La Campagne de Russie – a bargain volume which is packed with Adam and du Faur’s wonderfully evocative illustrations; a paperback on the uniforms of the Irish Rebellion of 1798 which is obscure but packed full of fascinating plates and info; and, best of all, the latest book from Don Troiani – Soldiers in America – which is absolutely gorgeous. It is worth the price of entry for the plates alone, covering 1756-1865, but there is a wealth of other information here as well. A fitting companion to the old, but venerable, Windrow & Embleton volume on the same subject.

I will not make too much of my claim to have introduced Vallejo paints to the hobby through the column, but it does seem as if they have made an enormous impact. I use them almost exclusively now, for anything apart from oil work, and find them unbeatable. They seem to have the best attributes of enamels and acrylics, and the pigment and texture are universally consistent. Even better, we now have the amazing Acrylic Retarder which you can mix into the paint to slow the drying time. You don’t need much, but it is just enough to give you time to blend rather than needing to wash. Fantastic stuff.

And finally, in response to one of the many letters, I am sorry that Mr Dewolfe considers my column ‘depressing blather’. Blather it may well be, but if it is depressing I am going wrong somewhere. I don’t think I’ve ever written a “doom and gloom” piece, I try to enthuse while calling spades spades, and in case anyone was unclear, I still think it is a great hobby. Next month you can look forward to an account of my latest US trip, reports on Paris and Essen and reviews of more figures, books and rules including the very promising Patriots & Loyalists that I picked up in the States and some notes on how Warhammer Ancient Battles seems to be taking the hobby by storm.