Wargamer’s Notebook 34

There was a distinct sense of finality at SELWG this year. A fine show as usual, but we have become attached to the Crystal Palace venue – and its unrivalled view of the swimming pool. And this was probably the last year there, with no firm plans for 2000. But a good show is a good show and SELWG pretty much has the formula sorted. Plenty of traders, some outstanding games, and more than enough space to circulate. And then there is the painting competition. I always have a look round, and the standard is usually very high – but then with an array of talented brushmen at the club, including my idol Max Longhurst, that is understandable.

This year, they surpassed themselves. Not only was Mark Wilkin along with some amazing Foundry bronze age Minoans (one chap next to me said “That is the best spearman I have ever seen” – and he was right), but the winner of the wargames class, and indeed the famed Harrison Trophy, was Terry Hart who presented two Ancient Egyptian units – a handful of chariots, and a huge group of infantry. They were absolutely superb and, apart from the basing, were as close to perfection as you could hope for. The faces just had to be seen to be believed – each one a real character, the eyes beautifully done. To my knowledge I have never before seen Mr Hart’s work, but I have no hesitation in instantly elevating him to my personal painting Hall of Fame.

This, apart from to my good self, meaningless accolade has caused some friction. I have received letters from people saying that they should be included, that I can’t possibly exclude Bob Boggins of their club, and from others still saying I am plain wrong. I may be many things, but it is tough to prove me ‘wrong’ on a subjective call that is down to personal taste and of course experience (I have never seen Bob Boggins’ figures, and may well yet rate them the best around). It is not unlike viewing the great artists. I will stand up and say Rembrandt, Canaletto, the Orientalists and Vermeer are my firm favourites, while others can point to Botticelli, Whistler or Raphael who, in turn, barely float my boat. However, I sincerely hope there is another Fragonard waiting to be discovered. It is nothing more than that, and while I am always interested to hear your view on ‘the best’, I am not ‘wrong’ in listing mine. And just in case there are still hurt feelings, I include most members of the Black Undercoat school within the Dallimore label – in fact Steve Dean’s evocative and eclectic approach gets my top vote – and Pete Morbey, Doug Mason, Phil Robinson and friends make the cut in the Gilder/Gaskin category. And having seen his marvellous First Corps Romans, I happily add the over-worked Rob Baker to the list. Is that everybody?

PS Apologies to Bob Boggins if there is one in the hobby. Having recently seen a gentleman purportedly called Giles Pine-Coffin, I am rather wary of making up names.

Steve Barber has to be one of the nicest and talented people in a hobby full of them. It is hard to resist yet another combination of his wooden framed building kits, and were it not for self-denial I would have bought some Roman fortifications ages ago. But spurred on by the success of Bootleggers, Steve has sat down and designed what could be a hugely successful game. Previewed at Warfare, Settlement is set in the Stone Age, and your tribe must hunt mammoths, gather food and skins and, presumably, fight rival cavemen. All this comes in a boxed, complete package including castings, sundry wild animals, rules and even markers. I am itching to play, and can imagine a small scale industry in expansion sets! Already I am thinking naval rules. Only a matter of time before someone makes a Doug McLure figure!

Chariot Wars, the latest supplement for Warhammer Ancient Battles, is a fascinating book. Not just army lists, but also a number of atmospheric images, colour plates and pictures and even some revisionist background history thrown in! Nigel Stillman has not lost his touch, keeping up with the latest theories and chronology of the period. It makes for a good read, in one of my favourite ancient periods – the chapter on the Trojan Wars, read in tandem with Peter Connolly’s Odysseus, is worth the entrance fee on its own. Disclaimer (thinking of years of heated Slingshot correspondence): I would have about as much idea on the accuracy of the book as I do about nuclear fission. I just enjoyed it.

So then. Empire’s Wargamer 1813. I have played quite a bit more and can report back in. The basic idea is ambitious, but well executed. The game allows you to refight the campaigns of 1813, as well as the key battles – not all of them, but the interesting encounters. There are moments of sheer brilliance – excellent fog of war effects, deploying your troops and seeing the enemy approaching, good sound effects, and a groovy period soundtrack. A typical battle will see one or more of your corps on an expansive battlefield, with mixed terrain. Apart from limited scouting you have no idea what you are facing (What has he got – militia or guards? Where are the reserves? Where will he attack? Am I being outflanked?). So when the enemy finally appears out of the gloom, they really make you worried – not a feeling one often experiences in this hobby. Despite the overall look, which could be better, some of the graphics techniques are extremely clever – the troops wheel convincingly, for instance. And of course (being a computer game) there are moments of pure pain – it is a little buggy, the enemy commanders are often hesitant on the attack (sometimes to the extent of court martial incompetence) and, most worrying, my charge into the flank of the Russian Cuirassiers with the Guard Heavies did nothing. We tried again. Nothing. From the rear? Nothing. Apparently, you can only fight face to face! I hope this is a bug, and I have written to the designer requesting a patch. Was it properly playtested? I’d have done it… It also seems battles have to end by driving the enemy from the field almost unit by unit. Finally, there was complete uproar as the Westphalian Light Cavalry broke through the Russian lines, and found themselves face to face with the Czar, completely unprotected. Being members of the Gamers Union, we chased him with gusto (who sadly is not all he was as a cavalryman). He ran off. We chased some more, and brought up some more cavalry and the Young Guard to head him off. At this point it felt like ‘One Man and His Dog’. Turns out the Czar and all other commanders have Federation Shield technology that prevents nasty injury. Otherwise, huge fun and when the patch appears to convert this from a work in progress, released prematurely, it will become highly recommended.

Phew. Managed to get through the entire fin de siècle column without mentioning the ‘M’ word. It has been a very good year in the hobby, with plenty of exciting new products, some excellent games and a general air of positive growth (or is that just me?) – not least in the girth of my favourite magazine Vae Victis Wargames Illustrated. My favourite ‘new’ company is The Honourable Lead Boiler Suit Co, who show a flair for the unusual and no little talent to back it up (check out their promising 25mm Schutztruppe range). My favourite established companies remain Foundry – there are too many highlights to list, but the Landsknecht artillery crew just nose ahead; Gripping Beast, whose Arthurian Personalities made my Autumn (and there are those Sassanids coming – let’s hope the horses are as good as the riders); and FAA’s long awaited Mountain Troops, Stug III and their BMW staff car. Best show by many miles was Partizan I (déjà vu, but who cares?). The best new product of 1999 is easily GMB Design’s 25mm flag range. ITV’s World War Two in Colour walks the media prize, Western Front was computer game of the year, League of Augsburg have the most impressive web site and best book was one of Panzer Colours 1-4 a la PolonaisAirfix: Celebrating 50 YearsNapoleon’s Elite Cavalry; or the incredible Jena Auerstadt from H&C – the French company that shows the way forward in book publishing. Needless to say Hersants is still the undisputed master (well, mistress) of Temptation in Book Retailing. Best game I saw? Tough call. Bog-A-Ten Mk II, Skirmish Wargames’ 54mm AWI game at Partizan or perhaps Peter Morbey’s stunning Napoleonics game at Fiasco II. Probably the latter, on balance. Here’s to the next millennium. Oops.