Wargamer’s Notebook 51

Well, it’s been a while. Sorry about that. Lots of reasons, most of them boring and personal, but I am still looking for an affordable house (that isn’t falling over) with room for my books and perhaps a gaming table, and the doctors may have finally worked out what has been ailing me for the last few years. Hurrah! On with the show.

Hard to believe I am finishing this off after returning from another Partizan. The years pass so quickly. But first, Triples. I have relegated this major show to an infrequent visit, perhaps once every two or three years, but it is one that always rewards that strategy. This year’s show seemed to be quite alive with enthusiasm, and there was a lot of new product – later on, I will try and cover all the new figures that have caught my eye – and some notable games. The first was a small but brilliantly done Gothic Horror participation, run by the Wessex Group. I watched for about half an hour and was very impressed at the inventive scenario. All participants were having a lot of fun, as did I. Next up was a truly massive 6mm ECW game that went boldly for a 1:1 figure scale. A hugely impressive effort, sadly let down by a near total absence of terrain – it looked like a lumpy snooker table. Please try this again chaps, with terrain that rivals that of the stunning Epsom game at Salute, which put me in the recce plane. So game of the show went to the Mosborough team, not with Alburia as mentioned in the programme (that sounds like a very nasty ailment), but Albuera. Proof that the big battalions game can still hold its own, and there was even room to manoeuvre!

A mate of mine made the trip to Partizan for the first time, I suspect largely based on my endless recommendations. At about midday he came over and expressed disappointment in the show, qualifying this heretical statement with the fact that he may be a bit jaded with the hobby. So presumably he was looking for a Take That! (and Lulu) ‘Relight my Fire’ result. This set me back as I was having a great time, as usual, and managed to fill the requisite six hours quite happily. But such a comment deserves careful consideration, and having done so, I have to conclude a) it was not a classic Partizan show, but was still very good indeed b) it must be the jaded thing, and c) that Lulu, like Tom Jones, is probably a bit past it these days for jigging around. Okay, so it isn’t the biggest trade presence in the world. For that go to Triples, Colours or Salute. But it is perfectly acceptable. And I challenge anyone to find a better selection of games, year in, year out. Sure, it varies show by show; this year there was only one ‘stonker’, and there was a Battletech game out back (shock, horror) but goodness me it is a hard (or jaded) man who walks away from Partizan without feeling inspired.

So, to those games. On walking into the first hall, Westbury had a lovely renaissance game between Poles and Ottomans. Great figures, with loads of winged hussars, let down badly by, umm, very brown terrain. I am of the opinion that earth left for any period of time has grass, or at least weeds, scrub and bushes on it. Even in Poland. Wrong? The League of Augsburg (but mainly Barry ‘Paris’ Hilton) reprised their 28mm WWII East Front game, only this time with even more hardware. I think Barry is trying to collect one of each type of tank ever made, but I doubt I will find out as I made the mistake of gently questioning his German OrBat. I may as well have insulted his family, eaten his dog and paraded him naked round Kelham Hall. Stunning work as usual. Next door, Steve Jones had an AWI set up that broke the normal pattern. Here we had lots of tight terrain, and close up fighting – a real Bocage feel for North America, and refreshing for that. Mike Blake and Skirmish Wargames had what looked like a doll’s house on their table, playing host to a number of superb 54mm ECW figures. Again, the usual high standard. South East Scotland put on what can only be described as the Kitchen Sink version of Back of Beyond. Revolting Chinese, Americans, British and just about everyone else with an axe to grind fought over paddy fields, buildings and urban waterways. Serious looking gunboats, 37 different factions, and an overactive imagination sums it all up. Superb stuff. I also give a well-deserved nod to The Mongrels, a group with whom I have many fundamental differences (!), but who put on an impressive Russo-Finnish Winter War game which is, I am sure you will agree, long overdue. And finally, the magnum opus. Dave Andrews and David Imrie, with very able assistance from Brian Phillips, put on a Swiss vs. Burgundian display. Now this meant I not only had a my first chance to see a lot (all?) of Dave Andrew’s justly famous Burgundian army, but also over 400 superbly painted Swiss, almost all from the Foundry Medieval Swiss range. This lot was laid out on the Andrew’s Patent Towelling Terrain (improving with age, and still no one else can work out how to do it…). Worth the journey on its own.

I often think that if I had to reduce my hobby purchases to a nominal monthly sum, and that massive-mortgage-induced day is not far off, almost all of it could go to the Perries. Their sculpting improves steadily, the bodies are losing that chunky feel, the heads are shrinking, and just look at their latest advert: Clerics, Pilgrims and Arab musicians (can’t imagine three more definite buys), the first six packs of the Dutch Belgians are musts for vignettes (who can live without Slender Billy and Constant Rebecque?) and the Jagers, Light Dragoons and Carabiniers will be as well, and then there are the gorgeous ninjas, unarmoured samurai and the Saracen emir’s court. And that is before I start on the purchase of 40mm Napoleonics, for show, not gaming. Looks like I had better re-start that paper round.

I wasted little time on The Assault Group in the past. No interest in the modern period, and figure style and sculpt quality that left me stone cold. Double whammy. Now, that has changed, largely thanks to Seth Nash (a new name to me) who has sculpted some very nice Samurai for the Gempei Wars range. I am not entirely convinced by the horses, and some of the human heads do seem a tad large, but these are good figures. Really good. Check the hands for starters; this man can sculpt. The detail is outstanding, especially on the ribboned armour, and the weapons are slim and elegant. I bought a lot from Julian at Chiltern , along with more of his Greek Gods and Victorian characters, and sincerely hope that the range gets finished, as it seems to have stalled. Déjà vu all over again. So Mr Nash, foot command, or else!!! Just for a touch of perspective, these are not quite up to Perry standard, though not too far off, but they are from the 12th century period that I much prefer. Either way, a very promising debut. I can see myself buying at least some of the Perries as well, just to paint up.

Crusader Miniatures go from strength to strength. I really like the Spanish El Cid types, which go hand in hand with Artizan’s angular and stingily packed Moors (even so, I still own a few), and Crusader’s own Normans. The WWII 28mms are growing steadily, and it was a pleasure to see a Boys anti-tank rifle appear. Years since that weapon hoved into view; I believe it took out one of my Pumas… The saddest, yet the best, range is the Seven Years War. I say sad because I feel the fragmented release of this epic and fated project, across several sculptors and companies, has left me completely confused. I think Crusader still has unique dibs on the Austrians, which appeal to me more than most, but I can’t help feeling that I am entering a minefield were I to start into this period. Perhaps it is just me, as the excellent figures Mark Sims is now producing deserve the best possible reception. STOP PRESS: Crusader have taken over the moulds of the excellent Corvus Belli 28mm medievals. Can’t wait.

Rounding out an excellent Spring for new releases is Monolith’s multi-strand venture, Graven Images. The main creative force behind this, working closely with Monolith’s Steve Mussared, is Jim Bowen. Yes, the same one. Not only one of the best painters in the world, but also, all of a sudden, a sculpting and thematic talent. Doubtless he can also give Tiger Woods a run for his money over 18 holes, and taught Eric Clapton a thing or two. Now the figures will not be to everyone’s taste, as they are both large in scale (36mm, or Rackham sized) and quite smooth, needing a deft hand with a paint brush. But the website shows how good they can look. There is also the outlandish subject matter – Disturbia is fantasy horror and Gotterdamerung is alternative WWII. And when I say fantasy and alternative, that is what I mean! I expect easier acceptance of Cliffhanger (early sci-fi/fantasy and pulp inspired), which rounds out the ranges. But in a way, these two points work together. You are unlikely to want to mix them with other ranges, although you easily could and big figures are very much ‘in’, and anyway (as I say), who is to say how big these unusual characters are anyway – put one next to a 28mm, and you have a true fantasy match up. Plus we are probably talking singles/skirmish rather than units, in most cases. What I can’t do is hope to convey the world setting and nature of these figures, as they are so unusual, and not a little cool. My favourites so far are Emperor Ming, the excellent evil toys, the killer clowns, Papa Sabbato, and The Cutter; nasty characters of the first order. There is undoubtedly a peculiar imagination at work here so expect plenty more original figures, while the background to support the figures and rules are promised soon. Check out the web site, or the Yahoo group, to see what these figures are all about. I think you will be impressed, and I will revisit them next time.

Here are the rest of the products spotted, joined together with dots: New boys Bolt Action Miniatures had a stand at Triples and it was an eye opener to see their 28mm WWII figures in the flesh. Firstly, there are a lot of them already. Secondly, they are very nice. I would say they score because of the unusual and realistic posing – the German radio operator is particularly striking. The designer is nothing if not keen, and I wish them all the best…  I have been rather taken with Blitz Miniatures 20mm 1940 French, though less so by their US Paras which don’t all capture the distinctive look for me (Band of Brothers lives long in the memory)… Gripping Beast have done a wonderful Military Orders Grand Master, along with some pilgrims that represent the best work to come out of this company for some while…  West Wind’s Octopons were a must buy until I saw the ridiculous price tag, a drawback common to much of their range… Crocodile Games would be extracting large sums from me if only one could buy the character figures easily and cheaply – they all seem to be hidden away in £20 packs…  Calpe Miniatures remain undefeated in the Low Key Marketing Awards, but continue to produce superb Napoleonic Prussians, correct in every detail… Our top man Mark Copplestone still hasn’t done the promised deep-sea divers, or the Matrix figures, but the cavemen are selling well. I will have words!… Lead Boiler Suit now has a confusing profusion of sub-brands, all of which produce outstanding 1/48th figures regardless, the latest of which are so good they make my Foundry Wild West figures redundant. Think Spaghetti…  MMS have done a 1/76th A13 Cruiser, which has to be my favourite British tank, and the Marmon Herrington, which is my third favourite armoured car…  Rackham have some stunning new magicians and Alchemists, the 2004 catalogue (a dangerous volume), a new magazine, and a sumptuous board game (at £50!)… Steve Barber has more of his 42mm Samurai available… Timecast have several excellent new buildings… Zvezda’s new plastic Samurai are rather nice… and Reviresco have done a set of 25mm baseball players – at last!

I have bought very few books in the last year. Actually, that’s a lie. Very few books relating to the hobby. Partly because I can’t remember which ones I have already. So no reviews this time, except to say if you don’t already own the Hourtoulle Napoleonic plates book from H&C, grab it quickly. I am however sitting on a pile of rule sets. That is not true either. There is a pile of rule sets in storage, unreachable, awaiting review. I will get to them, and the minimum I will do is read each one and report back. Whether I will ever play them all remains doubtful, but the spirit is willing.

There is a theory, that I put into practice, for not visiting national treasures if you live nearby. They will, of course, always be there and you can go at any time. You don’t, but you can. For instance, I worked for ten years within crawling distance of the Imperial War Museum, and never once went in. So now that I am in Cambridge, I have been doing all the London museums I missed in my forty odd years in the capital. I mention this only to recommend, with oak leaves, not only the much revamped IWM, and both Tates, but also the Wallace Collection in Manchester Square, hard by trendy Marylebone High Street. Apart from holding some of my favourite paintings – you read the captions in books, but it never really sinks in – there is a stunning collection of armour and weapons that I would say is the best I have seen, or at least as good as Warwick Castle’s great hall. Of course as I haven’t been to the Tower armouries for many years, that too is a suspect statement. There is even a room where you can try on morions, breastplates and so on – most of them didn’t fit me, but one sallet did, and my admiration for the foot soldier soared.

It seems almost pointless mentioning the final part of The Lord of the Rings, as yes, it really has been that long since the last column. So long in fact that the Oscars are already tarnishing, and the DVD is out. Well, the short one. We macho types wait and buy the four hour extended version, and will doubtless attempt to watch all three episodes back to back this Christmas. With scheduled comfort breaks, a bottle of port and mince pie supply drops. I thought the film much like the other two. Impressive when you aren’t watching it, oddly underwhelming when you do. Taken in specific chunks one can easily pick holes, and some characterisation would have gone a long way. But equally there are moments of pure genius (Gollum, the Mumakil and the depiction of Mordor) and you cannot knock the overall achievement – just think how bad could it have been. Much worse than what we got. Good cavalry charges, too. This latter is an asset shared with The Last Samurai. Now there is much that is dodgy in this film, not least the history, but overall it worked for me. Yes, I am sure I was being manipulated more than a little bit, I am nearing the end of my patience with Hollywood History (see Troy below), and the end was telegraphed a mile off, but I’ll stand up and say it – I was moved. And Tom Cruise almost worked in the role.

Now as good as these films were, my favourite of recent months is easily the excellent Master & Commander. If nothing else it explained to me how a ship can hope to find another ship in a vast expanse of ocean. But it was much more than an exercise in charts and dividers. The combat scenes were gripping, the fascinating Galapagos sub-story struck a chord, and, the odd cliché aside, life on ship was captured superbly – especially the young midshipmen, treated very much as adults. I don’t care for Russell Crowe, but he was excellent in this, and Paul Bettany made for a believable foil. Nevertheless, I understand the adaptation has not pleased the hardened fans, and that Maturin’s personality is considerably tweaked, but it all worked for me. Not quite to the point where I will try O’Brien’s work for a third time though. I await a sequel with interest, and surely a modern Flashman film cannot be far off? A little non-PC perhaps.

I have recently been to see Harry Potter 3 (a little scary for the kids, I think, but superb), the remarkable Station Agent, and of course, Troy. Goodness me, how good could this have been? I tried and tried to calm myself down, reminding myself that there would doubtless be ‘necessary departures’ from The Iliad, and so went into the cinema expecting some decent CGI, big battles and some flavoursome sets. I was hoping for a seven out of ten, if that makes sense, and as I already knew the gods were dispensed with, that seemed a reasonable expectation. I think I got a six. It is good in parts, but overall it reeks of Hollywood, except that Eddie Shoestring pops up out of nowhere! Surely they wanted Brian Blessed, but got Brian Cox. Worst moment was Sean Bean’s opening line, in broad South Yorkshire accent, strangely controlled from there on in. And rule writers will doubtless be rethinking their command & control mechanics after Agamemnon manages to withdraw the entire Greek line, fully engaged, with barely a whisper. I won’t do the wargamer comments on shields and armour, except to say they didn’t conjure up Trojans and Greeks to me, and Menelaus seemed to have body armour crocheted by his mum. But there were some good points (the massive fleet, the walls of Troy, the Horse) and many bad (Helen was an awful actress, if one squinted Paris was still Legolas, and there was some pretty ropey CGI). Still, worth seeing.

Coming up we have The Alamo (a complete stinker if US box office is an indicator), 300 Spartans  and the interesting King Arthur. Interesting mainly because of Keira Knightly, but also because they have gone for the ‘correct’ Late Roman period look. Further off, Alexander and Hannibal threaten, but are doubtless waiting to see if Troymakes its money back. We shall see. And finally, after two years of waiting, I have Kurosawa’s Ran on DVD. It had better be as good as I remember it…

To close, two adverts. Dave Ryan at Caliver is looking for rules writers who wish to take Dave Brown’s General de Brigade system into other periods. Please apply in writing with your proposals. And those of you who remember Sumo, my magazine covering board and card games, rather than our little lead friends, may be pleased to know that I am relaunching a similar, but rather slimmer, publication (title to be decided) in the near future. You can find more information at www.ludeme.com or from the usual address: PO Box 2062, Buckhurst Hill, Essex IG9 5DL

Mike Siggins