Wargamer’s Notebook 35

Whooosh! as my friend Ken says. Not sure where the last four months disappeared to, but it has been a blur. I got involved in some motorsport research work in the Autumn, which in turn lead to an opportunity in a dot.com start-up. This, put simply, has eaten my time alive (both work and ‘free’ alike), and it continues to do so. Thus another winter passed with very little achieved on the hobby front – do you detect a pattern here? Chatting to Mark Wilkin at Salute, he has recently revised his painting ambitions down from small units to single figures. I know exactly how he feels. I have completed about twenty figures all winter, plus a few Mayhem buildings and a couple of Flagship ironclads.

But all work and no play is a bad idea, so I made plans to escape to my first ever Sci-Fi and Fantasy Partizan. I am so glad I did. This was an excellent show, really well executed by all concerned. There was a fantastic atmosphere, loads of enthusiastic kids and new recruits playing games of all sorts, and some incredible club stands – my favourite, albeit a stationary display, was Bruno Allanson’s rendition of Darkest Africa. Quite beautifully done. As for impact, I kept hovering around Mike Blake’s Necromunda Rex creation – a six feet high 3D matrix of industrial clutter, populated by huge (150mm plus), scratchbuilt Necromunda gangs. The figures were stunning, the whole thing looked great, and their tractor beams pulled me in for a game – not a common occurrence, this. Huge fun, and a show I shall definitely attend again.

And so, to Salute at the much heralded new venue – Olympia. I think it is easily summed up as follows: good points were that you could move between the stands relatively easily, it was all in one place, and there was plenty to see. And it was identifiably the old Salute in new clothes. On the downside, the building had the feel of a hangar, the catering was expensive and prone to queues, and, vitally, the stands were just as difficult to get to until very late in the day (by which time they’d sold out). And as anyone who has been to Essen will testify, the last thing you need in a big hall is blaring PA systems with hectoring (often rude) announcements, and for the organisers to allow smoking. Baaaad move.

But nevertheless, there was a good turn out – lots of foreign accents were heard, women and children were present in numbers, and there were lots of new faces. I would say the show came close to the old Model Engineer Exhibitions as far as feel, sheer numbers of people, and traders went. It would be interesting to hear from the organisers whether the attendance was up – my guess was that it was, with people coming who had previously stayed away. I know there were some logistics problems for the traders, but then all reported good days as far as the coffers went. And in a new venue with a large show like this, there are bound to be hitches. If the teething problems are sorted out, this could well become the definitive show for traders and many punters alike – I have in mind a parallel to EuroMilitaire. I say this because I believe it will happen, not because I think that is a good thing, or that it is yet deserved.

Highlights of the show? Almost too many to note as most traders had worked hard over the winter. Steve Barber had some additions to his excellent Settlement game which I think is set to be a runaway success (I want war coracles!), and also a new range of 25mm Mongols. The Lead Boiler Suitees had great news – finally someone has committed to a range of Victorian British soldiers in home service dress. I cannot wait to see these figures, and to paint up Household Cavalry and Guards at attention. I- Kore had some excellent space marine type 25mms, some essential alien plants, and a mech walker that is a must purchase. Irregular Miniatures had some neat 25mm pirate females, sculpted by Nic Robson of Eureka Miniatures in Australia. NB These are not unattractive (cf my comments on Foundry women!). SHQ had some much improved ‘Nam 20mms and an impressive range of German 250 halftracks which I shall have to investigate further.

I’ll round off with an interesting observation. Because of the high hassle factor of earlier Salutes, I don’t think I have ever been around when the awards have been handed out, but this year I stayed till the end. The painting competition (very poorly lit) had only first prizes, when first to third is the very least some of the excellent entries deserved. The raffle had a novel twist. If you won a prize, and had not ‘left the building’, you were given two minutes to get to the stand or all was lost. Now Olympia is big, and I might have had trouble getting to the table by the deadline, but I would have paid to have seen faces if someone on crutches or in a wheelchair had shown up late, only to see their prize chariot handed over to someone faster. Again, control of the PA system seemed to bring out the worst in people. But the most unbelievable part of the day was the award announcements for best games. I thought I was hearing things when the Warlords won Best Demonstration Game and another award or two. And apparently this isn’t the first time.

Er, hello? However impartial the jury, this is plain bad form guys. It’s your show; surely your reward is its reported success and the gate receipts? It is the invited clubs, that have schlepped to London to put on a great selection of games that underpin your show, who deserve any honours. What about standing back next time, resting on those dubious laurels? I can’t think of many organisations that would have the barefaced cheek to give themselves an award at their own show, especially to Hammer’s Slammers which was evidently outclassed by any one of Aerodrome, Wilton, Gary Chalk’s pirates, or Tunbridge Wells’ 1:300 desert game. And apart from ice skating, I can’t think of many sports that allow it either. Both events were frankly embarrassing, but the Warlords didn’t seem to grasp the very evident public dissatisfaction (shouts of “Fix! Fix!”). I think they’d excel in politics or the Rail Unions.

A friend of mine argues that Foundry figures are often stocky and poorly proportioned, as if they have been living exclusively on steroids. I disagree because it is a generalisation, but there are definitely some figures on whom the cap would fit – especially in the Napoleonic ranges. But in the same way that the Perry’s early figures are clearly distinguishable from their middle period, so too are their latest creations. I would suggest that the Landsknechts and the Mycenaeans are among their very best work, and I feel the slightly elongated, willowy look, combined with the invariably excellent faces, works extremely well. It is hard to imagine better wargame figures, but as I always say Foundry are the best we have so far – it doesn’t mean they won’t improve.

And they will need to if Gripping Beast keep upping their standards. This paragraph will be biased, because I am talking about their Sassanid range – my favourite troop type outside of the Gordon Highlanders, and my first ever metal figure ‘army’ (and if anyone has got those thirty odd Hinchliffes that I stupidly sold at SELWG many moons ago, I’d like to buy them back!). I first saw the painted figures at the York show in February, and I can honestly say I just stood and admired them for about half an hour. The headgear, the facial detail, the painting, the pastel colouring and tonality, the horse armour, and the angular composition on the base were all spot on. I absolutely love them, and the levies weren’t bad either! If I were to nit pick, the heads are a tad wide, and the horses still a little oddly shaped, but these are first rate figures which I really look forward to painting (and being disappointed because I am not up to Gripping Beast’s brushwork). And then, at Salute, the elephants appeared. These are the best I’ve seen, bar none. As you can tell, I am a happy man.

Book of the Month is easy to decide, despite the piles of books acquired from Hersants since last time. The Art of Robert Griffing is stunning. Packed full of perfect reproductions of this acclaimed artist’s oil works, it is a must for anyone who has even a passing interest in Woodland Indians. I defy you not to find an idea for a figure or vignette in almost every plate. Not cheap, but wonderful.