Wargamer’s Notebook 41

While the younger generation are raving over the Harry Potter movie, I am keeping my powder dry for the December release of Lord of the Rings. It could so easily be a let down, but everything I have seen indicates it will be the exact opposite. I can’t wait! And at the very worst, it features Liv Tyler as Arwen. So having re-read the books last year, bought the movie guide, and played the excellent ICE card game to death, I am firmly enthused by Middle Earth at the moment. I may even get to paint those four different Fellowship sets I now have stored away – five points if you can guess which makes*. In a timely move, Games Workshop kindly sent me some review samples of their Lord of the Rings strategy battle game. The basic set comes with 48 plastic figures and the rulebook, which is a lovely piece of work, full of movie stills. At 128 pages the book is one-third rules, one-third character ratings/descriptions and scenarios, and one-third is a hobby related introduction; and this latter section is superbly done. There is basic information on painting, conversions, the wider hobby and forthcoming models, but the best section was terrain making. Here we are treated to several of Dave Andrew’s stunning modules, including his Weathertop display, which is mind bogglingly good. We could do with something similar in the historical hobby, standing aside from the WHAB book, if there were any way to produce and distribute it.

The rules themselves are skirmish level, using some downsized concepts from Warhammer such as weapon proficiency and defence, but are as far as I know completely new – and there are no saving rolls, instead a wound chart determines hit effects. A new departure is figure zones of control, which seem slightly incongruous, but I am sure there is a good reason for them. Everything runs off six sided dice, and with the initiative system it moves along quickly. My godson and I have played with about ten figures a side in 90 minutes with no problems. You could easily, with some tweaking of the ratings, use these as a good basis for a historical skirmish set – the ratings convey a neat feel for troop and racial differences. I like the figures, which have little of the usual Workshop anatomical exaggeration, Bilbo is spot on, and the Fellowship are just about as I imagine them. The only anomaly is Gimli, but then I don’t care for his film depiction either. I can’t imagine this package being anything but a big success come Christmas, and the demo games I have watched at shops and shows seem to be very popular.

SELWG returned in October, and I for one was very pleased to see it back in the show calendar. Apart from it being the best London event, there is a natural space in the calendar for shows around that time, and since I gave up on Derby years ago, it has been Colchester or Fiasco nicely filling the gap between Colours and Christmas. The SELWG formula was much the same as before: lots of top class traders, the chance to buy those few last must-have items, and see some fine games. This year the games were a little below par overall, but this was made up for by a spectacular Monte Cassino set up. Spotted on the trade stands were the new Pathfinder US Paras from West Wind (if the sculptor is the same as Old Glory’s, as I have been told, then he is doing much better work here).

How many of us live under fear of the OptiVisor? For me, just having struggled past my 40th birthday (though mentally still about 25), that infernal piece of equipment sends much the same signal as the zimmer frame: It is all up Siggins, and it is only a matter of time before the incontinence pants, a craving for brisket and the house smelling of cabbage. But however much we fight it, time does, sadly, take its toll. I was recently painting some figures which needed eyes (normally I don’t do them for ‘wargames standard’). For some reason, my legendary myopia failed me, and I found myself moving the figure backwards and forwards to get any focus, and even then it was not the crystal clear depth of field I have enjoyed up till now. A trip to the optician for me then, good job I haven’t got many figures to paint eh? Hoho. Additionally, as a matter of course, every finished project is now logged in a book – colours used, basing technique, any experimental undercoats for instance. The reason is simply that within a week I have forgotten how I did it, even if the paint pots used are still sitting on the workbench. It is sad isn’t it?

The workbench has been very productive lately. As a diversion from seemingly endless ranks of Sassanids, I broke off and painted some Gripping Beast Moors. And very nice they look too, once I had made up some tasselled spears and cunningly dual-purpose standards – they will serve as Haradrim, in my LotR fevered mind. Anyway, what I thought would be a straightforward paint job turned into a full scale experiment to depict black clothing – I am not so daft that I can’t see the same issues coming along, real soon now, for the Perry’s Brunswickers. Eventually I settled on dark grey undercoats, in varying shades, highlighted up with off whites, ochres and even flesh – a Patten Patent Tip – to establish some non-uniformity. It is surprising how much of a highlight you can use on black without it looking false – I think this is where I have gone wrong all these years. On top of this I washed very dark greys and blacks of varying intensities, both oil and acrylic, which I then ‘pulled off’ to leave a nicely shadowed (but not totally black) effect. In addition, I painted the different parts of clothing (cloaks, robes, headgear, trousers etc) in different shades, which really helped break up the overall blackness. I was pleased with the results.

Well, it has been a very good year. My efforts to attend more shows (mainly the ones I have not seen before) have been quite successful, but Stockton, Skelp, St Helens, Elvington and Antwerp sadly didn’t work out either time or travel wise. Perhaps next year. On which subject, I am probably going to cut back to the minimum in 2002. Many times I have found myself on a train too early on Sunday morning, or even at a less than wonderful show, thinking, quite simply, “I could be at home painting”. I suppose when the perceived value – i.e. enjoyment vs. cost, time and temptation – of visiting a show reaches that break-even or loss level, then it is time to think long and hard about the trip. So the core shows will probably be: the three Partizans, SELWG, IPMS Nationals, Trucks & Tracks, York, Salon Maquette, Broadsword, Colchester, Fiasco and Dragonmeet. On the possibles list are the Napoleonic Fair, Claymore, Alumwell, Triples, Euromilitaire, Colours, Warfare and any new ones I can get to.

So what has caught my eye in 2001? The number of quality figures appearing has been impressive. I was very taken with AB’s 20mm WWII releases, Copplestone’s Future Wars, Vendel’s Dwarves, A&A’s Sassanids (until the light horses appeared.), almost anything to come out of Rackham or West Wind (especially the Gothic Horror stuff), Italeri’s stunning 20mm plastics (particularly the Romans), Cromwell’s ever expanding Combat Ready tank series, Foundry’s AWI range, and for sheer inventiveness, Pax Limpopo takes some beating. And not new, but no less impressive, are the gorgeous ACW ironclads from Thoroughbred. In the runner up spots are Mark Fenlon’s ACW range, featuring what must be some of the best horses in 28mm scale, and Perry Miniatures’ Brunswickers which made my decade. Best of the Year though, for both quality and innovation, are the 1/48th Ultra Moderns and the various 28mm animals from HLBSC. Book of the Year goes to Portvliet’s obscure but beautiful book, Daily Life in Holland in the Year 1566, which I was overjoyed to find in a remainder shop, with Osprey’s Confederate Ironclad, Mark Adkin’s Waterloo Companion and H&C’s Borodino in very close pursuit. Show of the Year is again Partizan in all its splendid forms, and to be honest, I don’t see that changing any time soon, though if Broadsword carries on with its meteoric rise, I will be a happy man. Game of the Year is, as usual, just about impossible to decide. Narrowing it down, I’d go with Saving Private Ryan, League of Augsburg’s ancient scuffle, Bruno Allanson’s 28mm WWII exhibit, and an obscure but very impressive mech game spotted at Colchester. But Best Game, by a head, was Shepway’s WWII game at Trucks & Tracks.

*Vendel, Mithril, Games Workshop (old and new).