Wargamer’s Notebook 48

A new city, no workbench and after more than a month of inactivity, a surprisingly strong desire to do some painting. So, what to do? Passing the local Games Workshop, I called in to see if Faramir’s Rangers were out yet. They weren’t. We drifted into the usual exchange: What do you play? Warhammer? 40k? I don’t play, except LOTR occasionally, but I do buy the odd figure and paint. Have you been painting long? Almost thirty years (and still no good). Oh, right, you should come along to Tuesday night veteran’s club. You can paint, learn some tips and have a game if you like. Okayyyy.

Now you may know what I think of clubs and organised gaming. Well, organised anything really. Not my thing. But people keep telling me I am missing out, that I should mingle a bit, be a bit more sociable and assertive. They may be mistaken, but one has to embrace change I feel. So, at the prospect of painting for a couple of hours, for free, and perhaps learning some new tricks, I went along. Arriving at just after 6pm, as instructed, the place was pretty full. The first, deep, Desmond Morris observation is that the two members of staff who had fallen over backwards to be nice, in an empty shop during the day, hardly managed to raise an acknowledging smile when I walked in. After that I was ignored – no lead in, no help for a new recruit. Perhaps because it was veteran’s night and they have had enough helping kids? Whatever. In the old days I would have stayed ignored, clung to the wall for safety, and sneaked away. But this was a full on, rite of passage test. Steps had to be taken.

One of the staff was being important with the gamers; the other had nicked one of the two available painting seats. His mate, a dour sort, had secured the other. At about 3pm I would guess. He was hanging on like a human limpet, and rations were already in position. Short of actually building a zariba around the table, I had a hunch they weren’t going to be budging. But, emboldened by my new devil may care approach, I asked them if they would give me some feedback on my figures. Okay, they said, looking jaded, probably expecting gloss white skellingtons. Or worse. I pulled out a couple of Empire monks, which are among my better pieces. Silence. “The metal is nice, how did you do that?” Tamiya Smoke wash I think, but I felt this would be heretical. “Why are they on funny bases?” Because I don’t like slottabases. “Oh.” “Nice.” “Mmm, nice”. “You should do eyes though”. The manager got up and showed me some of his ‘obbits in the cabinet, and they went back to their brushes. Any chance of doing some painting? “Well, I have got to do these for the shop, but Tom may be finishing soon”. Tom, a.k.a. Barnacle Boy, showed no visible signs of finishing. Indeed, he may still be there now, sprouting roots and eating Quavers. So, resigned to clean hands, and pondering the efficacy of a painting evening where the staff paint (a busman’s holiday if ever there was one), I walked over to the gamers.

The first sensation was olfactory in nature, and best left unexplored in print. Let’s just say they were keen to game and didn’t have time to shower that night, and move on. There are two tables, surrounded by about a dozen players, hangers on and kibbitzers. One guy’s job seemed to be to say ‘sick’ every third word (meaning good, naturally) and another’s job was to be slapped on the head and abused. He had a largely non- speaking role otherwise. The average age of a veteran is about 23, but there are older alpha males. One of these has a spectacularly painted Chaos Marine army which I would happily have purchased there and then, had I the funds.

Only one table is in use so far. Am I to be incredibly lucky, and see the fabled mating dance? I am. And joy of joys, it involves a female – truly, an Attenborough Moment. There is an almost Jane Austen quality to the courtship ritual, with carefully chosen words, and surprising formality. It starts with the ceremonial display of briefcases, the male’s having brightly coloured stickers. “Are you playing anything tonight”, he opens, quite raunchily I thought. The female responds, demurely, “I was thinking of having a game of 40k”. The male preens visibly, fluffing his plumage. “Oooh, I have got 2,000 points of Tyranids with me. I want to try out a little plan I have been working on”. Impressed, the female accepts this overture and places her Sisters of Battle (predictable, but nicely painted) on the table. The male is clearly excited. They set up, and game happily. I expect marriage to follow in a few years. This is a Good Thing, and quite charming in its own way.

Which is more than can be said for the adjoining table, which seemed to be a constant argument over the rules, often involving the staff as the United Nations peacekeepers. Alpha Male is trying lots of underhand tricks. He seems to have crammed a couple of divisions into a Rhino APC. Like all the sneakiest perfect planners, he is so engrossed in his cleverness he forgets to do a bombardment. The other player, Velvet Jacket With Button Badges, knows this and lets it pass. When Alpha Male remembers, it is too late, and because he is denied a mulligan, he actually stamps his feet. They continue, testing the limits of the rules and decent behaviour, and still arguing.

Largely prompted by this annoyance, after 30 minutes I ceased the experiment, gave up, left the shop and went to see the excellent Adaptation, which rather saved the evening. I felt a little deflated, because I had (strangely) been looking forward to it. But it takes a lot of effort to break into these little cliques, where most people already know each other, and others are firmly epoxied onto painting stools. It takes even more to stick around in an environment that, on reflection, is as alien to me as a football match. It probably shouldn’t be, but it is, and I pause to wonder how many historical clubs still present a similar, impenetrable front. Perhaps I will run some experiments on my travels around the land, nomad style.

I don’t write this to moan about GW. The staff have a tough enough job (if you watch them, as I have done) and I believe that the sheer repetition would get almost anyone down over time. And the fact they are open at night and encouraging and supporting gaming is to be applauded – the youth clubs for the new century? Okay, yes, I am sure it helps sales. And what counts is that the people that game there have a good time, or indeed argue and have a good time. It is more to say that I am well past this sort of thing and that, probably, it was a bad idea on my part. At the very least, it was idealistic. And I still haven’t painted anything for nine weeks.

There are, for some reason, lots of figure releases to cover at the moment, almost all good, and some excellent. The new Perries seem to get better with each batch, and those horses are coming very close to how I have always imagined they should be. The mounted cleric with the cross is just splendid. And if the quality doesn’t sell me, the subject matter does. So, as a result, the occasional purchase happens. In fact, I don’t quite know how the small pile of figures has grown from absolutely nothing, over there on the shelf. I suppose they must self-seed.

It seems strange that I should acquire more figures, but then life is like that sometimes. It is probably partly that I am most impressed by the hobby at the moment, and thus enthused. I can’t recall a time, except perhaps when Foundry were pushing out good product monthly, that there was so much stuff to look at, and get excited about. New rulesets seem to have made a resurgence after some quiet months (more on these next time), there are ever more books to be considered (Osprey, for instance, seem to have gone up a gear) and we are spoilt for choice with paints and figures. Okay, so much of this variety comes at a price, but I am not allowed to talk about that.

Figures Without Arms is a new venture launched by Shaun McLaughlin, who has also re-established The Bunker in Newark (which by now must be some sort of singularity, such is the density of gaming activity present there). The idea is to provide figures doing, well, nothing much really. The first pack is for the Dark Ages, and very nice they are too. Stylistically similar to the old Citadel peasants one often sees in WI pictures, the pack contains six civilian men, drinking, standing around, walking and one, umm, relieving himself. Useful for the type of gamer that finds these things appealing, and not for those who snort at such frivolity, “If I can’t put it in a unit, what good is it? Give me more ski troops!” Romans next, and £5 per pack plus 15% p&p seems good value. Could we have some women as well please? Contact: 78 Harcourt St, Newark, Notts NG24 1RF. Tel: 01636 651876.

Sitting here pondering painting projects, I find myself drifting towards four main focus periods – i.e. those that I most wish to start work on as soon as I get back ‘in the chair’. They are ECW, where I am half way through a large unit of Renegade figures (a green regiment which is looking good), with a Bicorne unit next up and relevant GMB flags ready for action. I am enthused by this period like never before, and spend a lot of show time looking at painted examples. A number of people tell me how dull ECW games are, but let’s get them painted first, eh? Next is Middle Earth (with the added temptation of non-film figures, like Tom Bombadil and Barrow Wights (cor!), coming from Games Workshop); Victoriana (largely prompted by the excellent Ripper pack from Foundry and a backlog of Gothic Horrors); and what I call ‘Between the Wars’ – 1920’s and 30’s action, exemplified by Mark Copplestone’s character figures, biplanes, airships, Indiana Jones, cults, spies, remote airstrips, fogbound docks, and much derring-do.

Accordingly I am always on the look out for figures, props and vehicles for this period, in 28mm, and have quite a few of the Call of Cthulhu range sculpted by Bob Murch for RAFM. Bob now runs his own company, Pulp Figures, who have a growing range and lots of relevant 1920’s stuff. And boy are they tempting. You know when you see a pack of figures and they instantly conjure up the scenario? These are those type of figures. I have got the various character sets – Rugged Heroes, Sinister Spies and Dangerous Dames, and a Film Crew that is just plain cool. You can also get German Seebattalion, Americans, Yangtze gangs and, just in case you run across a lost world, Neanderthals. Sculpting quality is very good, but the occasional figure can look a little bland or oddly posed and the faces are variable – some are superbly characterful, others somewhat vague in detail. But good figures overall, often of unique subjects, and you’ll want some of them for sure. You can order Pulp Figures very easily over the internet at www.pulpfigures.com, and the site shows the whole range in images. And airmail postage comes at no extra charge. Highly recommended.

The early year show visits have been fewer than is usual – partly funding cutbacks (!), partly my new location. So I missed Fantasy Partizan and York, but got to the Napoleonic Fair, Alumwell and Tunbridge Wells. I like these shows, for different reasons, even if the former two may be on their last legs – Alumwell has continued parking problems (a victim of its own evident success) and a new venue beckons, and the Napoleonic Fair seemed particularly empty, but was worth going to for the book browsing, unusual stands (I enjoyed chatting to the chap offering clothing patterns for British jackets), Dave Brown’s game, and a chance to shake my head at the re- enactors. Alumwell featured a superb little WWII desert game, by Mark White of Stoke (I think!), with some very early, and thus quirky, British and Italian kit. Quite got me fired up for a new period, and I rather like the idea of those cruiser and light tanks with sky blue stripes. Just need to get the 60-odd 1940 and 1944 kits finished first.

Alumwell also represented the first major wallet splurge of the year. I came away with a reading copy of Squad Leader, some Alphonse Mucha flats (!), more Lead Boiler Suit 1/48th moderns, Preiser 1/72nd multipose Germans from Parabellum, Woodland Indians and religious commanders from the Perries, (and I will get their armed pilgrims as soon as they are out). From Mark Copplestone I bought the Big Game Hunters and some German Officers, and listened intently as I was informed of forthcoming huskies, sleds, polar explorers and deep sea divers – does it get any better than this? Artisan had some 28mm Italians, which looked excellent. I resisted though. I am so committed to 20mm, I can’t change now, but perhaps that early desert stuff could be in 28mm…. And from Timecast, I bought some cracking little 6mm resin buildings for my Squad Leader 1/300th WWII project.

Timecast are one of those exemplary companies that actually caught my attention through their website. They publicise themselves actively on The Miniatures Page, and once you follow the link you are on the regularly updated, enthusiastic, well illustrated site thinking, “Mmm. More tempting stuff to buy”. And of course you return, hoping for more. The good news is that the buildings are even better in the flesh, and Timecast can supply well painted models for a very reasonable premium. At the moment they are concentrating on 15mm down to 6mm, but there is an interesting selection of subjects – you can have a German Farmhouse that looks like a farm, Pavlov’s House or a pockmarked building from the de Neuville painting of St Privat. This is excellent. There are many more, all well researched, with fortifications and vegetation as well. And check out the dioramas on the site – inspiring stuff.

And me being me, we got to chatting about the company philosophy, how long the buildings take to master, and how terrain should look. The ensuing chat was enlightening, and took me back to thinking about ‘terrain first, troops second’ as a workable proposition. We also had a laugh about terrain that always looks like Surrey, but thinking about it, that may actually be what I want it to look like in some instances – it is certainly what I enjoy building. It is a spin on the old ‘representative feel’ issue, and I am much more familiar with Surrey than I am with The Sahara. And as I’ve asked before, where (the few relevant fine art paintings aside) do we turn for colour, period references? Oh for the Box Brownie and a time machine. So, Timecast. A positive, web-attuned company, with good products and some interesting plans, and one to look out for.

As of January 2003, I have restricted book purchases to the real essentials. People keep laughing at me when I tell them this. I have no idea why. But I have been true to my word, and the first three months have seen just four books bought (well, and an order from Hersants for the gorgeous Vallejo (any relation?) authored Crusades book). First up, because it is the biggest one, is Don Troiani’s Regiments and Uniforms of the Civil War. It is hard to pitch this book, as if you are a fan of Troiani’s artwork you will already have purchased it, even though it does contain some images we have seen before. If you aren’t familiar with him, just have a look at the artistry on display and see if, like me (no fan of the ACW as a period) it becomes a required purchase. Indeed, an essential purchase! The next book I couldn’t live without is the latest H&C volume, this time on the French Imperial Guard cavalry, which has become so large it is being released in two parts. A bargain at £10, and watch out for the Austerlitz book in the highly popular battle series later this year. And finally two Ospreys, which in fairness won’t keep the wolf from the door, but I just wanted them, okay? Wellington’s Peninsula Regiments (The Irish) was bought purely for the outstanding Mike Chappell plates. I didn’t know he was still around, and I am very pleased that he is. Also bought for the plates, but enjoyed more for the tragic history, is Douglas Miller’s Armies of the German Peasants’ War. Lots of flavoursome McBride images, and an unusual subject handled well at the traditional Osprey ‘overview’ level.

And finally, as a man who has collected his share of part works over the years, you will be pleased to note I am not buying deAgostini’s Battle Games in Middle Earth. But what a great marketing coup for both the publisher and GW. It sold so well, I had to try three newsagents to find the first issue (this may have been because of unscrupulous hobby types buying ten or more for the cheap figures!). There are surely few better ways of introducing the hobby and delivering piecemeal rules and painting skills, and importantly acting as a lead in to the wider hobby. If only there were the demand, or even the perceived demand, for a historical equivalent.

Next time a look at some of the latest rule sets, coverage of the big Spring shows including Partizan (woohoo!) and, hopefully, a new house for me.