There has been a low key running battle over the last few years as to what scale of tank is best for your 28mm miniatures. Obviously this is in the eye of the beholder, but manufacturers have to bite the bullet before we can even choose. Factions range from 1/43rd to 1/60th, though there may by now be other candidates. It’s like the Iraqi elections, folks. This may all be decided in the very near future as the industry giant Tamiya have, against all the odds, returned to 1/48th scale kits. Known to be a favourite of Mr Tamiya himself, ‘quarter scale’ lends itself to tanks and vehicles that look just right with all but the largest 28mm figures. Barry Hilton of the League of Augsburg has firmly committed to the scale, bringing in all sorts of obscure vehicle subjects from France, and even commissioning conversions to get that one elusive Marder or Brummbaer. The Tamiya kits? Wonderful. They have the detail, look and ‘sit’ of their 1/35th older brothers, but a pleasingly compact presence. Dare one say cute? I have the Kettenkrad and the Tiger, and look forward to building more – especially the dinky little Schwimmwagen and Hetzer. An early StuG is promised (I will personally campaign for a late one as well), as is a Sherman and an M10, and ancillary items such as tank traps and those infamous sandbags are coming too. If they sell well, who knows what will become available – plastic multipose figures, anyone? I can hardly wait, and this may (just) stop me drifting back to 1:35. Highly recommended.
I enjoy the Warfare show in Reading, much more so than the other two in the same area. Like Partizan, it has something about it. Indefinable, but positive. Last year’s edition proved one of the very best. It is well timed (pre-Christmas), in an excellent venue (food excepted!), is not at all overcrowded and offers a full day’s worth of content – by which I mean by the time one has finished looking at the games and traders, chatting to stalwarts like Steve Barber and Dave Thomas, and then re-visiting stands for purchases, it is 4pm and time to go home, happy. It is tough to argue with that for value. That said, there were fewer than normal top quality games, a fact more than balanced out by the Earlswood club’s quite wonderful Leuthen. This was clearly, even as one approached it, a standout effort. The basic pitch is a 15mm SYW battle in the snow. But everything about this game was spot on. Density of troops and unit size, overall colour and tone, buildings, terrain and visual impact all were perfect. The grass, a key component, was that almost dead brownish green, dusted with a hard frost. And that hard to pull off effect, snow, was also executed well – even on the figure bases. I will go as far as to say it felt cold, and apart from smoke and the chilled breath coming from man and horse, one could ask for no more – it reminded me very much of a painting from one of Christopher Duffy’s book covers. Figures were Old Glory, kindly donated by Battle Honours UK, quite beautifully painted and they really looked the part. To single out one, there was a hussar unit on one flank that just blew the mind – they had even done the microscopic piping on the saddlecloths. This was a superb game, and a model for all. Anyone involved in it, from tree maker to general’s command bases, should be very proud. To conclude, this single game was instrumental in rekindling my interest in SYW, 15mms (well, a little bit) and the hobby generally. Is that praise enough? To see if you agree, you can check out pictures of this game at Battle Honour’s website.
Frodo on a Pedestal
I have recently been playing quite a bit of the Lord of the Rings Tradeable Miniatures Game. To avoid confusion, this is the ‘clicky base’ system from Sabretooth Games, rather than the 28mm skirmish game from Games Workshop. Yes, it is collectible and I don’t really do collectible, but I guess I might have to make an exception. Rather than having to splash out initially, I was fortunate enough to be shown and taught the game by Rob Vasey, the son of a long time gaming friend, who is an expert on LOTR and Doctor Who, and who owns a mean Tau army.
LOTR: TMG runs on a simple premise. You have a selection of maps, with a hex grid, that determine terrain type, movement and combat. I have written before about my positive views on gridded gaming, so I won’t repeat them here. The figures are 1:1 representations, and carry all their game information (move, combat, point cost, hits and so on) on their hexagonal base. Most figure types have a special skill, such as fear, which amends the basic rules subtly, usually as a combat modifier. Players choose sides and a map, build an army to an agreed points level, and have at it. The huge plus is that this is an extremely quick game. A skirmish, say four black riders trying to capture Frodo in Bree, is over in 20 minutes. A decent ruck, with 15 per side, doesn’t take that much longer. A couple of hours could handle quite a battle, if you have the troops. This admirable execution speed is largely due to the combat system which is clear and deadly. There are no buckets of dice involved. Cleverly, groups fighting other groups are handled as a single combat.
The net result is that one can play three or four games in a session, which feel quite different because of the range of maps, figures (men, Dunedain, elves, dwarves, orcs, Uruks, Rohirrim, wraiths, trolls, Haradrim and so on) and their special skills. Neither is one short of scenario ideas, as the books are quite long and the Web is productive. The figures are actually rather good, in safe but sturdy plastic, and come pre-painted. They are considerably larger than those in the GW series and are not compatible; I suspect this is entirely deliberate. However, the larger specials (Treebeard and the Balrog for instance) really are something to behold, and since ‘big is big’, you could happily use them in either game.
What is interesting about Sabretooth is that, even though part of the GW Empire, they produce very different games. Their CCGs were interesting, but one could still see the GW shadow. This is in another dimension – one might even say the systems are simple and elegant, and yet still make for an atmospheric experience. I cannot honestly recommend that you go out and get heavily into a collectible game, but a moderate spend will get you going, and if the bug bites do try and ship booster packs in from the US where they are considerably cheaper, especially with the exchange rate being at such advantageous levels. I suspect there is also a secondary market on eBay and at shows (just look how cheaply one can pick up Battletech clickies now). Recommended, and ideal for younger gamers.
As soon as I had played LOTR: TMG I could see that the figures would take care of themselves (buy more as you need them! No cleaning or painting…), the system was all set and nicely tweakable and there is also an expansion set of maps. Apart from considering other periods in which this game could work (Vasey Snr. suggested The Iliad. Very tempting, this.), my thoughts quickly turned to new scenarios and making more maps. Snow maps. Autumn maps. Maps of Moria. Weathertop. Ruined watchtowers. Southron deserts. Elven forests. Mumble, mumble. Okay, so I got a little carried away. I realise, belatedly, that I am very much into maps and, more specifically, tiles of all sorts. They are interesting motifs running through my life, and I am starting to take notice. Took me decades to spot this, but hey.
Anyway, while I have some rudimentary graphics skills, and a raft of hobby level 3D packages (my ultimate dream is to own Maya or Max), I scouted around for some professional mapmaking software assistance. I quickly ruled out Campaign Cartographer, on graphic style and cost grounds, and Fractal Mapper because I couldn’t get it to do anything, and eventually settled on Dundjinni. This is in theory a tool to make dungeon maps for RPGs, but it is also pleasingly open ended. One can add one’s own art or use that of other users to easily produce open air settings at 28mm/LOTR scale. With the Campaign Pack, maps covering larger areas – battles and operational – are possible. With ingenuity, one can even produce deep space settings, sky and water. You can choose to overlay with grids – square or hexagonal – and after that it is down to your imagination.
The program (Mac and PC) supplies a decent range of high quality artwork to get you going, and the web forums provide tons more. The positives are that one can quickly produce maps that are very impressive. Lovely even. The tools on offer take advantage of layered bitmaps (for those in the know) and use PNG graphics to neatly handle transparency – so a sword on a table is just a sword. One can also make and import graphics from Photoshop or similar, and in turn, export maps at decent resolution for post processing or printing. Map size is limited only by your printer, but tiling gets round even that restriction. The drawbacks are that it is a little sluggish in use (it is written in Java rather than native code), its content is primarily aimed at fantasy/dark ages, and the licence agreement does not automatically allow sale of produced artwork – unnecessarily restrictive, in my view. And as much content as there is available, there is always something else you need for which (with my abilities) one is dependent upon others. Future developments will see present day settings, science fiction, and hopefully historical variants – I am looking for 1920’s for Call of Cthulhu, Victorian era for Steampunk, Wild West and Oriental content, but realise I may have a long wait! Highly recommended. If only it was a 3d holodeck…
Return to the Old West
Mike Owen was always one of my favourite sculptors at Foundry and I loved his Wild West stuff, especially the mountain men. These were larger than life caricatures that worked really well. I thought this period fad was long gone from our radar, but HLBSCo saw it coming back, Conquest fanned the flames, and then we got Legends of the Old West from Warhammer Historical which rather set the seal on it. Are we all set for another round of gunfights, 7th Cavalry and pesky injuns? Almost certainly. Mike has anticipated the likely demand by producing several sets of character figures. Some of these you will recognise, like the Earps, and others you won’t. We get banditos and desperadoes, hired guns, scruffy lawmen, smart lawmen, bank robbers and an excellent trail boss (lacking only a cauldron of beans). We also get three gentlemen who enjoy spaghetti, but I still await Lee van Cleef firing the shoulder stock pistol. They are all superb figures, though sadly the best one, Billy the Kid (which captures the famous photo perfectly), is a limited edition. One can’t have everything. Mike’s sculpting has improved since the Foundry models, and these subjects are also, I suggest, better suited to his style. The net result is a series of must buy packs in a period where I already have 60 odd figures to paint. More on the LotOW rules next time, for which I am planning a ‘rules special’.
Best of 2004
And so another year goes by. Quite worrying how frequently I seem to type that. Yes, I know, it happens every twelve months or so. Must be time for the annual round up. Tadaaa! My products of the year are:
Conquest’s 500 Nations range of native Americans. These are sculpts right up there with the best, and may in a short period of time even worry the Perries; Mongoose Games’ spaceship miniatures for Babylon 5: A Call to Arms. I am no fan of the series, but the ships are very cool and will look great in whatever system you favour (Full Thrust, Flagship’s Starship! and Battlefleet Gothic spring to mind). Shame about the prices.; Perry Miniatures’ Emir group, Pilgrims, Dutch Belgian command, 40mm Grenadier, and Samurai in everyday clothes; Rackham’s Cry Havoc!, Hybrid graphics, and too many figures to mention; AB’s 20mm British Paras; Artizan’s Wild West (see above); HLBSCo’s 1/48th Spaghetti Westerners, French Indian War and Last Stand at Gandamack; Zvezda’s 20mm plastic Samurai Infantry, Samurai Cavalry and Russian Cuirassiers; Histogame’s stunning Friedrich; Thunderbolt Mountain’s 30mm Elves; Baccus’s ‘Polemos’ total game system; Dragon’s 1/72nd Elefant kit; The Assault Group’s early Samurai; Capitulation/Bob Naismith’s Wars of Louis XV; Monolith’s Tripod Walkers, Golem and Flash Gordon figures; Eureka’s Krieghosen German War Pants and sublime 18mils; and last but not least, Little Big Men Studio’s excellent shield transfers.
My games of the year, in no particular order, are Russia WWII (Hilton/Augsburgers at Partizan I); Leuthen (Earlswood Wargamers at Warfare); 1944 Germans vs U.S. (Shepway at Broadsword); Aachen (Shepway at SELWG); Operation Epsom (Southend/Rayleigh at SELWG); I Ain’t Been Shot Mum (Garage Gamers, also at SELWG); Gothic Horror (Wessex at Triples); and Swiss vs Burgundians (Andrews/Imrie/Phillips at Partizan I). Another amazing year, all things considered.
Which reminds me, my highlight of last year was while eating my sandwiches at EuroMilitaire. Two German WWII re-enactors were standing on the prom, kitted out with tripod MG42, zeltbahn, even the stick grenades in the jackboot. With incredible timing (I looked around for cameras), a British war veteran walked up to them and proceeded to harangue them for a good ten minutes. One walked off, shaking his head, his mate stayed to bravely defend the indefensible. Our hero’s best line was, “I fought, and two of my friends died, to stop Germans walking along the prom at Folkestone. What exactly are you doing here?” Classic. I leave you to work out the rights and wrongs of this one.