Wargamer’s Notebook 50

Fifty issues. Eight years. And an awful lot of adjectives. I make that about six issues a year, allowing for the enforced break in ’98. Is there some sort of prize for surviving? My detractors must be thinking, ‘he hasn’t drifted away as we’d hoped’. Nope, plenty to say yet. Good products to mention, books to justify and purchase, rules to analyse, enthusiasm to be disseminated. And plenty of feathers yet to be ruffled.

It is tough to get a handle on the hobby at the moment. Some shows are up on attendance, some markedly down. Some traders report good strong sales, especially from the Internet, others bemoan a noticeably shrinking market – much is in the eye of the beholder here, of course. Prices and p&p seem to have gone up almost across the board, under a variety of excuses, but there are notable exceptions to this trend. There is certainly no little movement amongst staff, of all levels. Companies seem to change hands, start and stop with worrying frequency. At almost every show, someone new was jumping into the fray, while another, often prominent, individual had left. Several recent start-ups are now moving to, or considering, full time careers based upon sales success so far. All buoyant then?

Well, I am not sure. People still come up to me and bemoan increased prices and say they are buying less, but are usually clutching heavy little bags of lead, which probably says more than I ever could. If the manufacturers (and we exclude you-know-who, now considering another price rise…) have got it right, and £1 and more a figure is just about sustainable with a little wallet pain, then everything I have said in the past should come true. 28mm armies will be major investments in money and time (as ever), units will shrink, and skirmish/Warhammer ‘armies’ will be the order of the day, with rules to suit. Some will see plastics in a new light. An enlightened few concerned with gaming rather than painting will look to 10mm or 6mm, and even fewer will go to the 30mm and larger sizes at the other extreme. And 15mm seems to keep on trucking for those that like to sit on the fence. It is all part of a drift from representative art (nods to Messrs Gilder, Grant, Morbey, Tuckey, Gaskin, The Most Holy Guru of Baccus, and others) to the abstract. Twenty figures representing a warband. A character on a horse as important as a reserve. And the visual impact? That is a matter of taste, and for you to decide.

Are there any noticeable period trends? Well apart from a distinct interest in Lord of the Rings (understandable), ECW (figure driven or natural cycle?), 28mm WWII, and Back of Beyond scenarios (predictable, but great!), people are doing the same old esoteric, eclectic and enthusiastic stuff. Which is all good news. But I have this nagging doubt that a trip five years forward in a time machine, to SELWG 2008, might depict a smaller hobby, with a few dominant manufacturers, narrower choice and prices reflecting limited supply and strong specialist demand. That would be extremely sad, because much of the hobby’s appeal is the mid-size and smaller operations doing their bit for variety, quality and value for money. There could be a knock-on effect on shows, and the more we select and buy on the internet or by mail order, the less likely traders are to attend the gatherings. Personally, I still like to see products in the flesh, but you can see where the trend leads. And apart from ranges still not being finished before the muse drags the sculptor elsewhere, I am just about done.

There is somebody up in the weather control tower that likes to have a laugh. Come Partizan, almost every year, he cranks up the temperature and watches everyone melt inside Kelham Hall. An odd pastime, but not one that is going to spoil my enjoyment. This year’s shows were very good indeed, and were attended by even more people. I think it just about okay on crowd density, but obviously bottlenecks are forming, and a cosy show has become one where you can fail to spot a mate for a while (mainly because he is bent over viewing games, or buying). If I were interested in the Bring & Buy, I wouldn’t be able to get to it.

I like the Italian Wars. Always have. And I had been wondering to where all those landsknecht figures had disappeared. At Partizan I, three games surfaced to provide the answer. The League of Augsburg put on a generic game, with some very nice scenery and their customary excellent troops, while the Stonewallers put on Bicocca and Westbury Wargames did Pavia , both to excellent effect. I was spoilt for choice, and was forced to visit each three times. The mix of figures was interesting. Obviously there are lots of Foundry – Perry landsknechts, Wars of the Roses and Dave Andrew’s Swiss – together with Old Glory, Workshop Empire plastics and metals, and even a few Redoubt here and there. Meanwhile, Front Rank sold lots of Wars of the Roses figures! It seemed to be a wise tactic to keep different makes in separate units, but it worked well overall.

The Perries had a very nice looking samurai game, complete with excellent castle and Buddha statue, and Bruno Allanson once again showed how to use Foundry figures to best effect in his Napoleonic diorama. Mike Blake of Skirmish Wargames (author of a superb series of conversion articles in Toy Soldier magazine, by the way) turned out his “usual unusual”, this time in the shape of WWII 54mm using the rather tasty US Paras from Conte Collectibles. I don’t think it is really Mike’s period though, and I left him fielding mortar shells in a courtyard. Jones and Morris, your local firm of chartered accountants, put on an AWI game which had nice figures but disappointing terrain, and Sherwood had an Elite/Big Battalions game that always look the part.

But the best games of the show were very specific to my interests. The Hull club reprised their excellent 1/1200th Napoleonic naval game, set just before the Battle of the Nile. Imagine a massive table, with deep green sea, backed by a realistic coastline. In one corner is a harbour scene, with row after row of little Langton houses reminding me of Southwold or perhaps Chatham, and out on the bay, the battlelines clash. Quite superb. And in a completely different vein, the South East Scotland club put on an understated Back of Beyond scenario that really could have been missed in all the excitement. A bleak and barren table, with a ravine that made the one bridge the focus of combat. On one side was a mish-mash of Chinese warlords, ersatz tanks, trucks and armoured cars, and just about every troop type you can imagine. On the other, some Russians and the Czar with his retinue. Perfect colouring, great terrain and painting, and weird and wonderful troops. And if one asked a question, as I did, understated converted swiftly to enthusiastic. We chatted away for ten minutes, and I went away happy (and poorer, as I now have to buy the West Wind Czar/Czarina!). A model game, superbly executed, and a pleasure to witness.

In the fashion of the theatre, it is now time for the interval. Please return when you hear the bell. In July, things changed a bit in my life. I found myself without a home again, and starting a new part-time job in Cambridge. On the same day. I reallydon’t recommend this, should it happen to you. In my case, longer term, it lead to some pretty frantic charging around wondering where I was going to sleep, a heart stopping run of credit card bills, and some health problems that saw me in hospital twice. And all the time I was trying to keep my business afloat, learn the new job, and buy a house in a market that was heading just one way. Somehow, this grotty situation persisted for three months. Not surprisingly, I didn’t feel much like writing this column. What I did do was see a lot of films, sleep a lot, read a lot, think a lot and, umm, decide that there were quite a few things in storage that I could probably live without. Foremost among those items I greatly missed were my PC, books and paints. TV? Virtually a lost entertainment medium! I hear there might be a couple of decent films coming along… Master & Commander (Steve Barber already has figures out), Return of the King and Troy to name but three.

Ding! Partizan II, which understandably seemed a world away from the first, thus formed a valuable rock to grab while hurtling down the rapids. It probably cost me over a hundred quid just to be there – a function of badly wanting to attend, London hotels and crap Sunday train services. I can’t think of any other show I would go to such trouble for, which I guess says it all. So, worth it? Yes. Highlight was 28mm WWII, as presented by a splinter group from the League of Augsburg (Hilton and Olley). East front, excellent terrain, and figure and tank variety like you would not believe. I think they had the lot! Mr Hilton favours 1/48th tanks over any of the other ‘28mm compatibles’ and I have to say they worked well. A very impressive advert for the scale, even if I am sticking with 20mm. Elsewhere, Sloppy Jalopy released some much needed 1/48th vehicles for Back of Beyond type games, Ford pickups to start with and more tasty subjects to follow, and Monolith had a painted selection of Crocodile’s Aegyptus figures, which caused much frothing and spending.

Good news. Dave Ryan at Caliver Books (01702 473986) will gladly take your money in exchange for a new wargames magazine. Wargames: Soldiers & Strategyoriginates in Spain , comes complete with English translation, costs £3.55, and is the most impressive new debut since Vae Victis (and that is praise indeed). The first full colour issue contains articles on Samurai, painting of same, making a rural Japanese building, an interview with the Perries, and features on late Romans, Green Devils and the 28mm market. Add in boardgame and computer game reviews, and you have a meaty package. In support of these articles are colour plates and photographs of the very highest quality, including shots of Angel Villena’s superb collection. Duncan may have to check on his laurels, which he is sure he put in a cupboard somewhere. Seriously, have a look, I doubt you will be disappointed. This means Spain , Italy and France are producing high quality wargames magazines, and offering a clear lead, which those of the UK and the US , by far the largest miniature markets, might do well to follow.

I blame William Boyd. His book Armadillo set me off on a quest for a classical Greek helmet. Ideally for the game room, or perhaps the library or study. A trifle over the top? Yes, perhaps, but I am not a fan of busts, so thought this would be a good compromise. I looked into the purchase, largely on the web, and it comes down to three choices: firstly, buy an original archaeological find. Lottery funding being unavailable, I quickly looked elsewhere. Secondly, you can have someone make one for you, but these are expensive, can be an odd colour, and are way too shiny – think copper saucepans in a French kitchen – and thus wrong. I was willing to forgo provenance, but wanted convincing ‘age’ and patina. The answer came from It’s All Greek, a company specialising in classical artefacts, antiquities and ‘museum copies’ – effectively replicas of the very highest quality, often used in TV and film productions – the forthcoming Troy, to name but one. We are talking helmets of all sizes, bronzes, busts, jewellery, vases and statuary, some large enough to require a garden setting. You can even get wall friezes. Which was all great, but I neatly lost their details in my house move.

So when I was pottering around in Bloomsbury , my favourite part of London , I was overjoyed to find the recently opened Museum Gallery at 19 Bury Place, opposite the British Museum. This is It’s All Greek’s new retail outlet, and it is a very dangerous place to enter with a credit card. Certainly, if you have any interest in ancient Greece, Rome or Egypt, or perhaps have a flair for interior design, I challenge you to leave empty handed. Me, I am saving for the life size Corinthian helmet, no crest, beautifully patinated, and everything that a talking point (or statement piece) should be. The craftsmanship is first rate, and it is a target rich environment – in other words, I was spoilt for choice and I could happily buy a lot more. What is for certain is that the gallery sells classy products, not the usual tacky mementoes. That standard can command a high price, but there are plenty of bargains to be had in the run up to Christmas. Highly recommended. www.museumgallerylondon.com, 0845 330 3864.

Mike Blake lives for them, Steve Barber, North Star and HLBSCo do them, the Perries did them, and Sash & Sabre are well known for them. The bigger-but-never-quite-54mm figure keeps making brief appearances but never gets a foothold. But here we go again. The Perries have announced a range of 40mm Napoleonic troops, with Border Reivers to follow. And very nice they are too. Peninsula only for the moment, and just seven figures, but I am sure that will grow as soon as they have finished the Samurai, AWI and Moors… HLBSCo meanwhile have produced a respectable new range (complete at launch, how refreshing) of 1/48th figures, perhaps their best yet, for the Seminole Wars (they are still undefeated I believe?). The intent here is one to one skirmish gaming, or display if you prefer. The result is a firm move into the crossover market, where such figures sell at wargames shows and military modelling events. I am happy, as I like ‘em, but I am not sure they are going to sell many to gamers. But what do I know?

Somewhere deep in Games Workshop HQ there could well be a very large year planner with all the new releases marked on it. It must be looking a little crowded at present. Lord of the Rings, Forgeworld, new Bretonnians, new ships for Battlefleet Gothic, Kislevites, new paints, and some very tempting books. In many ways I would like it all, because unlike those narrow minded souls who boycott the Evil Empire, I can still recognise quality and, in strict moderation, will pay for it. One has to be choosy as the pricing structure dictates careful consideration. That done, the new Mordor Orcs are a must, even before the undoubted delights of the final LOTR film. The Nazgul on the Fell Beast has already been acquired, as have Tom Bombadil and the Barrow Wights (sounds like a band). I can’t wait for the inevitable Witch King/Eowyn diorama and while I doubt there will be a Mumakil, or Shelob, because of the size considerations, I can live in hope. The latest incarnation of the ‘How to Paint’ books is out, and it takes a slightly different approach. I would go as far as to say this offers the most detailed explanation of the ‘Eavy Metal technique I have seen. Highly recommended. And on the ‘too expensive’ list? The Forgeworld Mammoth and Dragon, and the amazing Imperial Armour book. Fantastic stuff, but too rich for me.

I think I took a page or more discussing The Game of War when it came out. I will need barely a paragraph for Time Commanders. Not because it was bad, quite the opposite. I liked the idea and structure, I loved the on screen images (partly because we can see where they will be in five years time), and apart from fog-of-war (best left out, I’m sure) I thought it was a thoroughly positive experience. And how much better the series was for using non-hobby people. Okay, so some obviously knew a bit about flanking, morale and ambushes, but the experience was richer for an absence of know-it-alls. The resident experts more than made up for that, and eventually grated. But overall, a good effort and entertaining viewing.

What a summer! Pretty much straight sunshine from April to October. Every blue-skied morning was a joy to behold. It was like living in California without the ongoing fear of an earthquake. Which was good, because I spent an awful lot of time outside. Needless to say my tan is impressive, but the domestic situation has not resolved – I spent much of the year in lodgings or hotels. So, at a loss for many daylight hours at a time, and mindful of my comments last time, I did a lot of work on colour theory. I read half a dozen books, let that sink in, and then another ten, I listened to the advice offered following my cry for help last time (thank you Messrs Andrews, Lincoln, Santucci, Imrie, Foss and Videki), I asked questions, and I spent hundreds of hours (yes, hundreds) mixing and comprehending watercolours, initially from just three (Cyan, Magenta and Yellow) tubes, which seemed the easiest (and most portable) way to get to grips with neutrals, chroma, hue and all the other stuff I had taken for granted.

Am I any clearer? Well, yes, I am. On the negative side, I definitely now know that I am not a natural colour mixer, any more than I am a natural painter. But like golf, and badminton, both of which I have practiced a lot as well as played, I can see that practice makes if not perfect, a lot more sense. And despite almost thirty years of painting I have never ‘served my time’ on the theory. On the plus side, I can see now how colour works, I certainly understand much more of why it works, especially the colour wheel and complementary shadows, and while some actions (adding raw sienna to almost any colour to subdue it, for instance) are not fully understood, I can see that they work. I am looking forward to putting the theory into practice. Of course what also happened was 1) I developed a strangely obsessive interest in brickwork, which perhaps indicates rather too much sun and 2) I fell in love (again) with the beautiful intensity and glow of watercolours, and wished I had a smidgen of 2d talent to make this pursuit worthwhile. Perhaps they will work on flats…

And so another year closes. Not exactly an active one for me, but I took in a few shows, kept up to speed on new releases and remain enthusiastic about the hobby. Best figures of the year are anything by the PerriesCopplestone and the ever improving HLBSCo, with a special mention for the excellent Victorian Sci-Fi divers from Scheltrum. My product of the year is the Timecast buildings range and their refreshing attitude. My show of the year is, as usual, Partizan albeit with a firm nod to Milton Keynes’s Campaign innovations. My games of the year are the superb WWII Desert game at Alumwell, anything by the Augsburgers and the Back of Beyond game mentioned above. My book of the year is H&C’s Char B1s in Combat, with a nod to Vallejo ‘s Crusades. I realise I am becoming predictable. And I don’t really care. Here’s to another fifty issues, Duncan permitting.

Although I remain a nomad, you can always contact me at PO Box 2062 , Buckhurst Hill, Essex IG9 5DL, or via www.czapska.com.

Mike Siggins