Wargamer’s Notebook 53

The first thing I need to say, by way of a clarification, is that my comments about Partizan last time should in no way demean the considerable and welcome efforts of organisers, demonstrators or traders who were there. It was a very personal reaction at a show that normally, as you may have observed, leaves me in a state of rapture. So what happened?

Break Point

As far as I can describe it, the floor fell out of my hobby. It all seemed a bit pointless and the thought of building and painting and playing was not so much unappealing, but actually quite ridiculous. Yes, I know, we all have these thoughts every now and then. But these were evidently Big Doubts, pumped up on steroids and manhandling smaller doubts out of the way. So at a show that normally lifts the enthusiasm several notches, I was completely deflated. And, perhaps linked (or via infection), so was almost everyone I spoke to. It had cost me a lot of money to get there, there was a huge sense of deja vu (almost down to the table locations), much of the new (and old) product was disappointing or downright depressing, and I just didn’t see that my hobby had a future.

Why? Firstly, it wasn’t one discrete trigger, it was a combination effect, both acute and over time. It was partly due to the tragic events in Beslan the previous day, and doubtless much more besides, including the fact I am still ‘not painting’. This, as you may have worked out, is a euphemism. I have been getting enthused and buying stuff for well over a year now without the opportunity to go home and do anything creative with it. I put it onto a large pile and then subsequently into storage. The purchases thus take on negative connotations in terms of cost and space and frustrated desires, without the compensating benefits. I am sure any psychologists reading are having a field day.

Essentially then, and don’t laugh, I may have hit something of a mini mid-life crisis. Mid-show crisis, even. Which is a bit annoying as I thought I had encountered, headbutted and avoided this phenomenon a few years back. How does that work then? Simple. Unmistakeable pointers crop up for months before, and you finally get the clear message, in neon: “Retail therapy doesn’t work, and even if it did, you can’t possibly afford it.” This means I feel little else but guilt from just being at shows, for getting excited about yet another period, and spending money on yet more figures. It doesn’t matter if you just buy a brush, a tank and a Vallejo pot once per week because over the year you have still spent a packet.

I have, in market terms, heavily overbought. Sure, there is the odd little tempter left to consider, and always new releases, but broadly speaking I have bought everything there is to be bought. Every figure, every book, every ruleset, every terrain piece, every paintpot, every tool and every magazine. And a pot full of brushes. They are now blurring into one horrible guilt-inducing mass and each marginal purchase contributes nothing but more guilt and more storage problems. There is also the vague understanding that I really need the money to be diverted to other more pressing items like, ohhh, a house, savings, and even (gasp) a pension. That a house purchase isn’t actually possible at the moment just adds to the angst. All very well, I hear you say, but life is fundamentally unsustainable without large numbers of the Perries’ Hundred Years War figures. How true that is! So either I cut the spend, or get an extra job! You can tell I am fighting the inevitable, even now.

Secondly, the standard of game at Partizan was not up to the usual inspirational levels. Whether this was because some of the reliable exponents were missing (Andrews, Augsburgers, Imrie, Perries etc) or because the games that were there seemed rather ‘seen it all before’, I couldn’t say. Again, that is me, not the games, and there were no poor ones. What helped matters was one John Laing, who heroically shuttles me and others to and from Newark station. He observed that when one is drifting around a show, to an extent all games look alike. A sense of greenery (or sea) with coloured points. Looking closer reveals more, but if all the games are like that (and they were) then perhaps the overall impact of the show is reduced. It’s a theory, and one that stands up to this situation. Above all though, I was hit with a feeling that the show, and all shows, are repetitive, and that I am looking for the exceptions to bring relief from the norm. Because I am me, and because of this column, I am looking for the Blue Smarties. That is, the aesthetic standouts, the classy products, those exciting new releases. And these, by their nature, are rare.

In truth I probably needed to be at a show for this watershed to happen, but it needn’t necessarily have been Partizan and it therefore should not be blamed for being the passing innocent. Nevertheless, it bore the brunt of my confused comments last time for which I apologise. The really good news is that this feeling has partly corrected after a decent holiday (boy was that overdue) and a visit to EuroMilitaire and SELWG where I found myself enthusing over all sorts of good things, including 1/300th SciFi from Ground Zero and Kallistra! But seriously, I have to change somehow. Enough.

Pit Bulls

If in this life one sticks one’s head above the parapet, and offers honest opinions in a column such as this, then one must (occasionally) expect the worst by way of reader feedback. This normally comes in the form of drive-by abuse of little substance but considerable venom, but as long term readers will know I have also had proper hate mail, ‘Siggins Free Zones’ signs at shows and even a memorial speech (!). Overall, these negative fellows are more than balanced out by the positive ones I meet and happily chat to at shows and over the emails. But still they come, and the latest savaging actually struck home. Not because it made many telling comments, but because it gave me the gauge of my opponents. It has happened before, but never with quite the ferocity and inaccuracies that this lot generated, and so they laid themselves wide open. I leave you to read it, if you wish, as it does form something of a full stop to this phase of the column. Edifying it isn’t.

Bring Me Solutions, Not Problems!

I think what I would like to see in response to the above is someone else writing in WI on a regular basis to balance my stuff out. I am down to quarterly, so someone could easily mesh in. What about someone who attends a club, plays 15mm, doesn’t particularly like painting, and enjoys competition games. The sole criteria for acceptance is that you get off your bum and do something. If it is interesting, and you explain what pushes your buttons and why, then we are in business. Then all you have to do is produce more than one column.

SELWG

I have said it before, but I like SELWG’s show a lot. This year it was cooler, and there were apparently less people – perhaps because there was no swimming competition. Even the chlorine was restrained, but I am one of the few who likes that smell. As a result comfortable viewing was enjoyed all day and I spent the entire time browsing, chatting to old friends, and watching the games, of which there were a handful of excellent specimens: The Garage Gamers were playing WWII according to the Too Fat Lardies (brilliant name) rules. They broke off, explained the unusual game systems, and I am officially intrigued. North London reprised their War of the Worlds participation, with tripods (but no Minis), which looks better each time I see it. It drew keen players throughout the day. Deal Wargamers offered an atmospheric Poland 1939 scenario, with the requisite cavalry and early panzers (It always makes me ponder the rapid change from the Panzer I to the Tiger II!). Loughton Strike Force let Dave Brown have a day off and instead of their usual 15mm Napoleonics or WWII, they had a 28mm AWI game of Eutaw Springs running under the British Grenadier! ruleset from Caliver. Superb terrain – suitably bosky, very nicely painted figures, and like all Strike Force games it was being actively played out. All good stuff, but people kept pointing me to a mass of yellow trees in the corner.

Shepway Lead From The Front

That game was perhaps one of the best I have seen for a while. Ironically its only rival was by the same club at a different show! That club is Shepway, hailing from the Folkestone area, and that means their trademark 20mm WWII. The SELWG game was based on Aachen, the first German city to fall and, fittingly, everything was in Autumn shades. A realistic German troop train chugged across the board, a troop of Shermans edged gingerly forward hidden by the golden, rusty foliage, and Mustangs and Thunderbolts flew low overhead. Wonderful stuff. But Game of the Month, and showing that they are streets ahead in this field, was at Broadsword (Walthamstow). Usual story; Allies attacking a hotch potch of German defenders in NW Europe, but they execute so well it matters not how hackneyed the theme. I stood and admired it for a long time, trying to crack their secret formula, but broadly speaking everything just right: the colour of the boards, lovely trees, the density of terrain and units, a real feel of ad hoc defence, first rate modeling, no pandering to SS loonies, and the situations always looks completely believable. I returned time and again to this one, particularly to the rear of the Pak 43 emplacement which gave a good view of the battlefield and onrushing Shermans. It made the show for me.

Eureka!

I have said it before, but I am never embarrassed about hearing my own opinions: Eureka is one of the most innovative and exciting manufacturers in the present marketplace. I suspect their remoteness (psychologically and geographically) makes them something of an afterthought in the UK and Europe, or for some an unknown. That this may be the case is very sad indeed. They have an exemplary website, the Aussy Dollar exchange rate is favourable at the moment, and my order arrived quicker than one from Amazon in Bedford, an hour up the road. I see that Ian Marsh at Fighting 15s now stocks some of the ranges, along with GZG who carry the essential Pax Limpopos. I urge you to go and have a look and see what they have on offer, order the excellent catalogue, and if they don’t make your chosen piece yet, you can always join their unique (?) subscription schemes. The latest batch included some real gems: Retro Power Armour Troops capture the What If? Reich and Japanese robots look in one hit; WWI Germans in rocket backpacks (excellent!); Victorian men, women and children, police and crims; denizens of the Souk, the women complete with burkahs and the salesmen looking ready to haggle; and the best of the bunch, the Krieghosen German War Pants worn by brave men driven by clockwork gears. Priceless. Many thanks to Nic for the samples.

Other Tempting Stuff

Apart from Eureka, there are very few new products actually in my possession, but a number that will sorely test the Retail Therapy Theory. A must are the latest 20mm plastics from Zvezda and HaT. I have the superb Samurai infantry, but the cavalry, just out, may well be even better. At £3.50 for over a dozen figures who can quibble? HaT’s Armourfast range now includes German mortar and machine gun crews. I have seen these priced as high as £8, but you should be able to pick them up for less. Again, very nice indeed. Even nicer, but pitched at the modeling market and priced accordingly, are some excellent 1/72nd WWII figures from MiG. These are well sculpted and give Preiser, Milicast and AB a run for their money. You can also buy a set of weapons and equipment separately, albeit not up to the amazing Preiser sprue…. AB meanwhile have released British Paras. Oh my… Kallistra have just released half a dozen packs of 10mm Hundred Years War, and of course continue to sell their excellent fantasy figures in the same scale and perhaps the most stylish spaceships in the business… West Wind have a new range, Chaos in Cairo, that will provide a good selection of pulp characters for 1930’s Egypt. Hard to imagine a richer vein for scenarios and cross genre action! As ever, one hopes the prices are closer to the market norm than has been the case recently… I have seen and am convinced I need HLBSCo’s 1/48th rendering of the Last Stand at Gandamack, which is an amazing piece of work, and they are also promising French Indian War in the same scale. Now they should be worth seeing…. Steve Mussared at Monolith remains chained to the casting machine but has managed to get Robin Hill to design an outstanding tripod walker for your Victoriana games. Many have tried to capture a convincing retro look, but I think Steve has nailed it…. The Perries surpass themselves again in the form of the Hundred Years War tasters on their site. These figures are so good that, even with the dodgy battles of the period (i.e. not very interesting), they will be a must buy. Would have been nice to know these were coming before I committed to The Crusades for my medieval and heraldry fix, but I will just have to add another project to the list…. If you move quickly, Modelzone have an aggressive sale on that includes a number of Corgi diecast tanks and trucks in LR Scale*. I got a Foden Steam Tractor which is just perfect for Back of Beyond and similar. It even has an endorsement from Fred Dibnah! *LR Scale is ‘Looks Right’, because I suspect we have all tired of working out what scale works for 28mm. The model is actually 1/50th…. Gripping Beast (now safely ensconced in Evesham) have a full range of Seljuks out, and they are probably the best figures they have produced since those lovely Sassanids. The heavies are suitably armoured up to the eyeballs, and the lights have rotating bodies to allow many different archery poses. The faces are characterful, the clothes hang well and there is plenty of variety. Looking good.

Little Big Man

Plenty there to set the wallet flapping, but believe it or not, it gets even better. At SELWG there was a mysterious but growing buzz about shield transfers. Mmm, I thought, so what? We have VVV, and Foundry, and of course if you can paint like Darren Harding, Dave Andrews or Simon Chick, you don’t need them anyway… And then I saw them on Chiltern’s stand. It was double-take time. This product, by Steve Hales of Little Big Men Studios, is going to do for shield designs what GMB did for flags – revolutionise the form. Firstly, these are not monochrome shapes that you need to overpaint to look the part. They are hand painted and shaded, and look really great with no further work. A complex lightning bolt design in yellow added to a red Imperial Roman shield was truly beautiful to behold, and would be impossible to paint. Secondly, they are rub down transfers which, I am assured, configure neatly to even contoured shapes. Cleverer still, each set of designs is tailored to, say, Foundry shield sizes, so you get an exact fit. They cost about 16p per figure, but (again like GMB) they will make your army look so good, I doubt you will care about the marginal expense. It should also push up sales of Late Romans and Byzantines who I am convinced undersell because of the thought of painting the shields! Chatting to Darren at Gripping Beast, who stock the ranges specific to them, it seems the present selection of Roman (early and late) and Byzantine shields will quickly be added to in the shape of Teutonic and Crusader crosses, ornate Russian designs, then flags and pennants, and, as you might expect, heraldry is coming soon. These will be available for your heaters AND caparisons. Cor! Think St. Petersburg Collection in 28mm! I can only hope we see pavise artwork as well, but either way Steve will take desperate requests on board at steve@littlebigmenstudios.co.uk. I can hardly wait, partly because this has endless scope, and partly because I have seen enough, in quality results and potential, to know it is going to be a huge success.

Let Slip The Dosh of War

If such innovations get me frothing without fail, the same in spades can be said about Rackham. Fortunately I have reached the point where I have no way of checking which figures I already have, and can’t possibly remember all those arcane character names, so purchasing has stopped and the desirable items in the catalogue will have to wait. That doesn’t mean I can’t maintain my interest by looking enviously at their sumptuous boardgame Hybrid, which at £50 plus the expansion at £30, will need a play or two and first class appeal to make the purchase list. So, clearly, I like their stuff. It is no surprise then that I awaited Cry Havoc with interest. This is their long awaited house magazine, and the first issue is now available. I am going to get all excited again, but wait for the punchline. Essentially this is performing White Dwarf’s role but for the Rackham hobby. So we are looking at new releases, game support, rules for Confrontation and Hybrid, scenarios and modelling tips. Given that I am biased because I admire almost all their work (though some of the recent mega monsters have been a bit iffy), this is better than anything on the market. Lovely paper, photography and painting of the very highest order, and without doubt one of the best modelling articles I have seen. And this is promised regulalrly in the future. Wow. Reading the small print we find that from a start-up company a few years back, Rackham now employ sizeable teams of sculptors, painters and designers. You know, I would love to see them succeed in a big way. This production is of such high quality, and there is so much of it, one wonders how they will manage to produce it quarterly – teams or no teams. Perhaps they will just do it when they can. Let’s hope they do because it is spectacular stuff – exactly what the historical hobby should be producing to fire enthusiasm. The only drawback is the price. £15. Yes, I have paid £15 for a magazine, albeit one with nothing but useful content. A little worrying, to say the least because unless it is an annual event, it is hard to justify £60 a year. Perhaps if I call it a yearbook… At this uniquely French level of luxury pricing, I leave you to decide on value for money.

Histomania, Mirliton, Lights and Bushels (oh my)

A recent holiday to the South of France was not expected to generate much in the way of hobby related content, but I was mistaken. Right next to the Grand Hotel in Cannes, a couple of blocks down from the Carlton, is a new shop, Histomania (45 Bd de la Croisette, Cannes 06400, patrickmale@wanadoo.fr). I thought I was seeing things when I spotted a window full of figures and uniform books in amongst the endless clothes boutiques. But then once inside, you realize it is a boutique, which just happens to sell model haute couture. And model shoes (!). But mainly model soldiers. Case after case of them, with rarities and examples from manufacturers old and new. Admittedly most of them were 54mm, and some were of the toy soldier breed, but there was more than enough to occupy an hour. He has Mokarex, Mignot, Tradition, Elastolin and many more, and even a few flats. And he is also selling very high quality collections on commission sale, so one can hope for Surens and the like to appear in future. To be honest, I have seen less impressive museums. Anyway, I am working my way along the shelves when I reach the small scale cabinet. Minifigs, Fantassin, and… some exquisite 25mm Napoleonics that are new to me – and I am talking seriously impressive anatomy, faces, horses, character and presence. I pride myself on being able to identify most figures, but these stumped me. All I knew is that I wanted some, especially the Grenadiers a Cheval. The proprietor believed they were Italian, but knew no more. On my return to the UK, I looked into the likely sources and I think they are probably Mirliton, who have clearly been hiding their light under a bushel, but I await catalogue pictures to confirm. So, worth a visit and it may yet prove very expensive!

Set in Stone

As a quick aside, I am most grateful to Shaun McLaughlin who sent me a copy of a set of wargames rules in use with the British Model Soldier Society way back in 1930. Quaint by today’s standards, clearly relying on everyone around the table being upstanding gentlemen, but showing a worrying similarity to rules systems existing today. The joyous moment was finding the earliest recorded rule for infantry moving, yes, six inches. I must have a look at Little Wars and see whether that instigated this shibboleth. Shaun tells me he has another book, Sham Battle (Dowdall & Gleason, 1929) that also specifies six inches full move, but only on roads. So sadly, Mr McWhirter will have to reject that record attempt. These fascinating documents, and many more, are available for browsing by anyone attending The Bunker’s uniquely enthusiastic game weekends.

White Dwarf, Black Gobbo

Finally, for those of you with web access, go and google (now a verb, apparently) for an excellent online magazine called Black Gobbo. This is produced by the US office of Games Workshop and I have to say it gives White Dwarf a run for its money. And it’s completely free. It features a decent number of excellent articles, with a focus on modeling and terrain tips, including a massive Marienburg city, highly convincing stonework from foam, and an impressive Shelob’s Lair. And considering that John Boadle of Architectural Miniatures was offering these recommendations, I really need say no more. There is also a brilliant feature on Warhammer sea monsters that just has to be seen. There are 25 issues on line already, it seems to be bi-weekly which is a scary schedule, and I recommend it highly.

In Memoriam

I close by marking the passing of two names very well known to the hobby: Bruce Quarrie and David Chandler. Bruce was, with Terry Wise and Charles Grant, one of the main formative influences on my and many others’ hobby, not to mention his considerable success in the world of historical publishing. I have told many times the story of reading and using Napoleonic Wargaming (the red Airfix guide) until it literally fell apart. As time went on, with more personal research, I could see that Mr Quarrie had introduced some beliefs that I would eventually reject, but I have seldom re-captured the excitement of those first couple of years, or indeed shrugged his anomalous but telling comments on flamethrowers. David Chandler meanwhile needs little introduction to anyone interested in the Napoleonic period. While I have never regarded The Campaigns of Napoleon with the reverence accorded by most, it remains a book that I often refer to. I have in truth enjoyed his other volumes far more, but one can hardly argue with his reputation.

Mike Siggins