Wargamer’s Notebook 38

I suppose ideally one should adopt a Zen approach to the workbench, working slowly and devotedly to completion on one project at a time, the wide wooden expanse kept clear of distractions, and the mind focused firmly on the model in hand. Mmm. Usually I can’t start work until I have cleared a small hole, unplugged the compressor to use the Anglepoise, or removed terrain debris before a paint session. Plus, I currently have about a dozen projects underway: finishing off my 28mm Brunswick contingent (Foundry conversions), starting on the British general staff at Waterloo, building several 20mm tanks (mainly French), painting the only three Rackham figures I found in Paris, cleaning up Foundry’s Dad’s Army, some samurai, a haycart, a scratchbuilt Napoleonic observation balloon, a Redoubt War Wagon, a couple of dinosaurs, an orchard, a GW Mech, a Langton island, a 54mm Lancer of Berg and two sumo wrestlers, but the latter needn’t concern you! And finally, my web site (only four years overdue) nears completion – more on this next time. Phew. So yes, I am finally able to declare a Productive Winter (probably because it has been a proper winter at last). Not a Vintage year, but definitely Productive.

Haha! Just occasionally you see a new range of figures of immediate appeal, clearly designed by a deranged genius, but full of originality. Pax Limpopo (!) from Eureka Miniatures is just such a range. I thought I was seeing things when I spotted a Victorian British Lancer riding a unicyle, ostensibly engaged in the fine sport of Pig Tickling. Further investigation revealed Steam Driven armoured suits, the Nanarchists (Tiggy Legge-Bourke with attitude), a small dog (because every range should have one) and some almost regular troops – if a Cuirassier on a penny-farthing can be so termed. Wild and wacky stuff, and great fun. My only major complaint is that the quality of the faces is variable, and the minor complaint is that the penny-farthings have no spokes… UK distribution is through Ground Zero Games.

And even better, we have two new companies that have made quite an impact on me. Their figures are excellent, and look set to join the top rank as soon as their selection builds to critical mass. First up, the small but growing range from Mark Fenlon Miniatures. I would go as far as to say that Mark has provided THE highlight of recent memory, and at £12 for 20 infantry, they are reasonably priced as well (though European buyers need to add 20% postage from Australia). Concentrating exclusively on the ACW, these 28mm figures are superbly sculpted characters in realistic, varied and unusual poses. But even better are the horses – without a doubt the best available in 28mm (yes, that good) and I intend to use them extensively to vary the mounts for Foundry, Lead Boiler Suit and other compatible riders. They have no reins, nor saddle furniture, so are ideal for many periods and great as bases for conversion. I absolutely love two of the eight horse models so far available, which will become my ‘commander horses’ of choice, but the overall impression is close to ideal – realising of course that my ideal may not be yours. Decide for yourself here. Secondly, we have Trooper Miniatures, another company (like the oddly low profile Calpe) kicking off with 28mm Napoleonic Prussians. Again, the figures are well sculpted with good facial detail, and look very close to Foundry in style – a compliment, of course. http://www.trooperminiatures.com/.

Two new companies to watch then, plus an older one: Kennington Miniatures, always one of my favourite smaller design houses, has imported a substantial range of 20mm metal building, gun and vehicle kits from Germany under the Scale Factory label. Now when I say guns and vehicles, the range goes back to ancients and through to WWII, so you can imagine the spread: catapults, bombards, Congreve rockets, gatlings, WWI field guns, flakvierlings and so on up to Bergepanthers. And it is comprehensive as well as top quality. Apart from the surprise that such a range could come out of Germany, the only shock is the prices – a little on the high side, but for that unique piece, or for variety (ACW Hearse anyone?), these will be very useful indeed. Lists from Kennington on 020 8291 6675.

With another hat on, I went up to the big IPMS show in Telford for the first time. The advantage, if you can stomach table after table full of plastic jets (I can, especially the Saabs – how can a designer of such cool planes make such ugly cars?), is that you will see modelling of the highest standards, big crowds, a thriving trade presence including Revell, and all the high street magazines. In fact, it would be interesting to know how many people came through the doors compared to Colours and Salute. There were also a number of rather interesting new products. Well, new to me. The first stand to catch the eye was Forgeworld, a Games Workshop sister company that produce resin castings. And very nice they are too – buildings, walls, tanks, conversion sets, a neat road system and a number of 28mm set piece terrain items, including a wonderful Renaissance earthwork that I just have to own. The quality is the highest, as are the prices which reflect their corporate allegiance. A shame, but I bet you find something tasty on the website – www.forgeworld.com. My favourite is the windmill, but the piles of cargo are good as well. Next up was the range of Greif accessories sold by PDI Model Supplies (01908 505988). The range includes an impressive selection of clear and coloured lenses, 1mm to 5mm in size, which can replace headlights, infra red sights or the scope on your Space Marine sniper to great effect, along with hawsers, ropes, wires and bases. I came away with two interesting little pieces of metal that will make you rivets or bolt heads in a variety of sizes by thrusting hot sprue into a hole, and trimming the moulding off when cool. Useless? No, not really. I have used them to great effect on a Victorian tank (!) which I have been building recently, using wheels from a traction engine kit and very early track links.

Which brings me neatly to my current favourite fad. You need to understand that fads never usurp my traditional areas of interest in the longer term, but do provide a brief and frantic period of activity, welcome relief from painting endless units and some odd overlaps in the display cabinet. The latest one is… Steampunk. Or Victorian Science Fiction, wherein the powers of Europe have developed technology far in advance of reality and can build all sorts of futuristic infernal devices like aether ships, mechanical men and trains that run on time. Broadly speaking, as long as it looks Victorian, and has a big boiler, lots of brass, gearwheels and rivets, you can probably get away with it. And my preference is for a Time Machine and some dinosaurs in the mix as well. Think Wild Wild West, then forget everything you saw in that pop video of a movie, and you are close.

This is far from an original concept, as there is already a wealth of background information to provide inspiration – which in my case was Foundry’s Darkest Africa range but mainly the English Victoriana specials, Tim Power’s wonderful novel The Anubis Gates, Cthulhu by Gaslight, Flashman,William Gibson’sThe Difference Engine and now, of course, Pax Limpopo. Add in Space: 1889, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, GURPS Steampunk (an excellent reference, this), Forgotten Futures, the output of Wessex Games and Scheltrum, Source of the Nile and several relevant figure ranges, you have a great base on which to build. Plus, there is a new TV series coming, The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne, which sounds quite amazing. The question, as a friend keeps reminding me, is what sort of scenarios are you going to run? At present I am dodging this problem, and am content making up the figures and vehicles.

Just as this column was closing, I received a call from Nancy at Hersants Books. To cut a long story short, Nancy has sold the long established business (anyone remember the shop in Highgate?) and will be setting sail on the sea of employment, while the business will continue under new management by Steve Mankelow – I just hope he is as good at finding my obscure French uniform books! Nancy apologised for not being able to contact everyone but asked me to pass on her thanks for your custom over the years. This is both pleasing news, as I am chuffed for Nancy and the family, but also sad as I for one shall very much miss our chats, her welcoming smile, unrivalled customer service, the excellent catalogues, and even her painless technique of relieving me of hundreds of pounds! It is true to say there is no one else in the hobby (no, not even your cuddly editor) with such charisma. All the best in your new pursuits Nancy, we will miss you.