Wargamer’s Notebook 36

This week I have mainly been experimenting with metallic paints. A touch Fast Show, that. Sorry. And I am quite taken with them. Basically you put on a base coat (bronze or iron so far) and then, when dry, apply a second ‘weathering’ coat, and more to taste. The iron turns to real rust, the bronze miraculously grows verdigris. As someone who loves the aged effect and looks askance at anything pristine, these paints from Modern Options are a great find. I used the rust on some tank exhausts and on the superstructure of a Flagship submersible, and I am sold. The bronze has been used pure on gun barrels and on a bust of Wellington. Now what else can get the treatment?

The other fad has been buildings, and I now have a veritable town forming at the bottom of my display cabinet. A batch of Steve Barber’s excellent timber framed resins painted up really well, and set off my Landsknecht guns nicely. Next up were some African mud huts from Mayhem and the Grand Manner watchtower. But the highlights have been the new Italian Renaissance range from John Boadle. Six buildings from a man who aims to set model architecture on a par with figure sculpting standards. I have no doubt he has succeeded. The detail is exquisite, and every building, from the diminutive house, through the dinky little church to the mini-palazzo (a serious chunk of resin, this) is full of pantiled, stucco character and presence. They demand a proper paint job as well! These are masterpieces of miniature architecture, and befit a man who is a professional in the field. Up till now I’d have said Langton’s 1/1200s, Mayhem’s and Steve Barber’s were the best resins around, but these easily join them – you can get more details from Temporal Echoes on 01964 623618. And just a general request to finish; could building sculptors please leave off the moulded vegetation? It is easy to apply some if you want to, but impossible to remove if you don’t.

And finally, it was dinosaurs. Not sure exactly why. Always liked the scaly beggars, but the BBC series and Ray Rimell’s superb book on dinosaur modelling were the main culprits. So now I have a fair selection of kits and HLBSC’s metals arrayed on the shelf, displaying a motley collection of skin textures and colours. I enjoyed painting these up, and it made a change. I have no idea what I am going to do with them, but they look really good!

Once I received some of the Lead Boiler Suit’s late Victorian home service range, it was a matter of minutes before I did a Mad Englishman in Bearskin for my Darkest Africa collection (I already have a hussar officer who won’t leave his father’s pelisse behind, despite the heat). These are nice figures, not up to the highest standards (arms seem a little long, creases are unconvincing, and some of the castings are a bit flat), but perfectly adequate and easily painted up. My favourites are the Foot Guards, and the Household Cavalry, which latter I chose to remount on larger horses, which improves the effect no end. The horses supplied are actually anatomically close to life, but while the Hussars looked right, the heavies benefited from a Connoisseur or First Corps charger. Personal preference, nothing more.

I am going to grumble about something, but you should be advised that it is on a sensitive subject and a strictly personal opinion. Being a partly reformed collector, and having spent much of the last few years under the spell of the collectible card game, I was not best pleased to see the roll out of Foundry’s limited edition figure policy. In a nutshell, these are figures I’d very much like to own (as figures, not an investment fund), but I am not at all keen on having to jump through hoops to get them (ordering every month in the method dictated, even when I don’t want more figures or have the time, or to pay via the Net), nor to pay what could be £13.50 (pack plus post) to get a Bride of Frankenstein. On the other hand, subbing to WI or Vae Victis works for me. At best it is a cynical commercial move, at worst it makes me feel manipulated. The paraphrased ad commentary (“let’s see what they sell for in ten years”), and pandering to the depressing secondary market mentality, is more Franklin Mint or Liliput Lane than the hobby I know and love. It betrays an attitude towards customers, and I really don’t see how it can make a positive impression on new recruits, of whatever age. Numerically limited editions are bad enough, but an artificial time horizon is even worse.

Which leads me neatly to the recent Foundry price rises. Bryan Ansell has telegraphed these for some time, an unusual step in itself, and has clearly explained the rationale and his beliefs on hobby market forces. The crux is Foundry’s main group of buyers; the large numbers of mysterious collector johnnies who all have deep pockets and stash away more figures than even the most rabid show buyer of whitemetal. Do they paint them? Do they polish them? Or just line ’em up in cabinets? We’ll never know, because apparently they rarely emerge from their sinking houses. And then there is the postal charge – £5 for orders less than around £70 – which, incidentally, is higher than Games Workshop, and for small orders seems a bit much.

I’ll be frank and say that I am at saturation point: I now feel that Foundry prices are at the upper limit of my comfort zone, ‘toppish’ to coin a phrase, and combined with, oh, about ten year’s worth of supplies here in Gandamack Lodge, I shouldn’t really be too worried. But assuming the prices have now reached the level where Foundry feel comfortable, I can live with it. Balancing that are some very tempting new ranges, from the remarkable array of talented new sculptors, and the Siggins Willpower that will see me generating fantastic excuses to justify some Pavlovs. Meanwhile, the Dad’s Army figures and the forthcoming Germans are wonderful, the James Gang are a must, Steve Saleh’s Macedonians are rather tasty, and I can see myself hankering for a Thracian WHAB army for Christmas. It’s a fixer, isn’t it? I’ll qualify all that by saying I understand why it is being done from a commercial angle, that many will think limited editions a great idea, and that I can always choose not to buy. But I am not sure the move is judicious, and it will be very interesting to see the reaction of the buyers over the coming months. So, as ever, we shall see.

Because I have had an odd summer – I pretty much went off games altogether, but fortunately not modelling – this column has been delayed about six times. It has finally emerged because I left the second Partizan show completely re-enthused. Nothing much wrong with the first show in May either, it just happened to coincide with some personal and commercial disasters, including one of my two start-ups hitting the dirt, and my body finally demanding a rest for the entire month of June! So what was happening at Kelham Hall? He’ll get a big head, but Dave Andrew’s two games were among the highlights for me. The first, a Motte and Bailey castle and the second his WWII circus reprised. Dave has sent many of us scurrying to make towelling grass, with which he fashions his lovely terrain boards. I have worrying visions of white towels disappearing from airing cupboards, and the nation’s washing machines filled with grass green dye. Bruno Allanson probably topped the terrain charts with his spectacular coastal dioramas (though why a full German infantry regiment was needed to intercept six French partisans landing some wine, we shall never know!), and as usual, the boys from the League of Augsburg put most of us to shame with their beautifully executed Crimean display. The appeal of this game was that you could look at any base of figures and marvel at the posing, the grouping and the gorgeous painting – the dismounted Russian general (see the website) is a modern classic. Multiply that by, what, a hundred or so vignettes, and you start to wonder whether time moves more slowly in Scotland. Still the best shows on the planet, in my ‘umble opinion.

And there has been plenty to see on the trade stands too. Steve Barber has produced gladiators, and coracles and rafts for Settlement, which are his best figure work yet, and he promises a range of prehistoric animals that will be must-haves for me. First Corps have been busier than anyone outside of the Pokemon industry, and have a bewildering selection of new ranges. I like their Seven Samurai and Starship Troopers, but the Greeks are the best. GMB have managed to produce a scary number of flag packs in a short time, but have been diverted off into the backwater that is the ACW, forsaking the glorious Napoleonic period. I’ll forgive him if he does the Brunswickers and stops giving me recommendations on expensive new paints – Lefranc & Bourgeois Flashe acrylics are excellent, dead matt, but cost a frightening £5.50 per jar (Stevenson’s 020 7253 1693). FAA seem to be keeping me happy all by themselves. Their perfect little BMW staff car sees service in Kampfgruppe Sigmaringen, their excellent French WWII tanks are adding to my slowly growing 1940 army, and the new Moroccan squads are just wonderful. Old Crow (020 8773 4428), a new company to me, have a very impressive range of resin accessories, including SF buildings, silos, warehouses, containers and round and hexagonal bases, that are of the highest standard. And finally, Gripping Beast’s Caesarian Romans are quite beautifully done. The three standing legionaries that graced their stand all summer are, finally, as good as the Perries. I look forward to the rest of the range, as much as I dislike Romans! What is it with the sudden surge of interest in our boring Latin chums? Give me a Dacian or Celt any day.

I never did get on with Miliput – a pain to work with, and its dust brings me out in big red blotches. And I won’t have any of the other epoxy putties in the house. So you can imagine my pleasure when I spotted Magic Sculp in MilMod recently. It is not entirely clear if it is 100% non-toxic, but it is certainly a pleasure to use and causes me no problems at all as far as sensitivity is concerned. It is very easy to mix up and work with almost any tool you can think of. Within minutes I was knocking up new hats, epaulettes and even a cloak – it rolls out very thinly and remains workable for a long time. Once hardened, it resembles grey resin but is hard, sandable and fileable. I love it, and only wish I had 1% of the talents of my favourite sculptors because now I can see the appeal of that creative pursuit. You can order a sample pack of Magic Sculp for £3.50 from Roy Hunt, 9 Joyce Page Close, Charlton, London SE7 8TA, email: royhunt@freeuk.com.

Another talented man coming to my rescue is Bob Palmer (01202 485996, bob.palmer@tesco.net). Bob is a wood turner and makes a range of interesting stuff, both modelling and mainstream – his catalogue is almost certain to prompt a sale or two. The reason I was contacted is that Bob had read of my problems with a consistently sore thumb and gripping brushes. His solution is the Brush Holder, a turned handle (available in various sizes) with a central hole, into which you slide a traditional paintbrush. The net result is a brush that can be gripped much more easily without compromising the control. I like them, and for a number of tasks use them all the time, but they do have a couple of design issues. Firstly, it makes it a little difficult when cleaning the brush in a pot, and secondly it is a real precision task to get the brush through the hole without ruining an expensive sable point! I think a solution might be a screw-on cap, so you only have to feed it an inch rather than the whole length, but that of course would come at a higher cost. These minor niggles are a small price to pay though, and the product comes highly recommended for people in my position.

I suppose I can stand up (alone?) and say that I found Gladiator a huge disappointment. Judging by some of the rave reviews in the press and from friends, this was the best war film since Private Ryan. Umm, yes. The opening battle sequence was indeed stunning (but short) and the effects are something to get excited about, as was the Emperor’s character and the desert scenes. But the predictable plot, the sickening violence and the horrible inevitability of the ending all made it rather unbelievable. I was underwhelmed, but the future of historical movies (or indeed fantasy – the new Lord of the Rings movie looks incredible), with ever-advancing computer graphics, is going to be very interesting. I did however like Jane’s Fleet Command on the PC. Graphically and interface-wise, it is just average. But the scenario builder, scope of the game and the general ease of play make it a winner, and streets ahead of the Harpoon series. Recommended, and already being discounted. Books of the Month are the ongoing Coppens/Courcelle ‘history with uniform plates’ series on Waterloo – right up my street, you might say – and James Arnold’s latest, self published volume, Marengo & Hohenlinden which I am half way through. The historical accuracy of this one is beyond my ability to assess, but the readability (as with all Arnold’s books) is spot on. Fascinating campaigns and battles, intelligently analysed and grippingly portrayed and book production standards that one can only admire. Both of these are available from Hersants.