While we wait with considerable interest to see if Peter Jackson can get The Hobbit movie started within five lawyer-heavy years or so, Games Workshop are our best hope for a glimpse into Tolkien’s other famous novel. Battle of Five Armies is their recent milestone release, covering the famous climactic encounter so thrillingly described in the book. For those familiar with the existing GW LotR figure game, Five Armies is a marked departure. This is a battle level game, with 10mm units, rather than the 28mm, single figure skirmish approach. As such, the large box delivers everything you need to play except Smaug, who for some unfathomable reason is an additional purchase. There is even plastic terrain, including two impressive hills. For £50, one expects quite a treat, and Five Armies delivers in style. The box is chock full of stuff. The troops (goblins, dwarves, men and elves) are gorgeous, moulded in hard plastic they slot neatly into bases and are very highly detailed. One squints and assesses the chances of making them look good with decent paint jobs, or compromising and just block colouring and dry brushing. I think I will go with the latter. Once you have prepared all the troops, and lined them up, they really look the part. The rules are, as usual for GW, superbly laid out and are, predictably, a subtle reworking of the tried and trusted Warmaster system. Those that have played this ruleset are usually highly positive, and now I can see why. For fantasy battles, rather than historical, their ‘rolling move’ mechanism makes for an exciting, fluid game with bold sweeping manoeuvres and evocative combat. Add in a splash of magic, a few eagles for air support, and you are away. I enjoyed every step of Five Armies. Unpacking, building the units, setting it out, reading rules and playing. It strikes me as an admirable, one box route into the hobby – perhaps the historical market could follow suit? – and Smaug’s absence apart, I recommend Five Armies highly.
What happened? Last year I went to see two films a week, and still missed a fair number anyway. This year, half a dozen in total. Okay, so we have Wallace & Gromit, Narnia and Fantastic 4 to come, but it really has been a bit flat overall. No wonder revenues are down. Personally, I thought Star Wars III and War of the Worlds were rubbish: the former was laughable at times, with some of the worst acting and lines for some time. Batman Begins was okay, but really nothing we haven’t seen before. I did, in a small way, enjoy Robots and The Life Aquatic but, best of all by a long, long way was the brilliant Sideways. Having passed on the dodgy looking Alexander (was that wise?), the only films I can lump into the historical box are A Very Long Engagement and Kingdom of Heaven, which were both sumptuous to look at, but perhaps a little drawn out and a tad dull. I cannot vouch for the history in either, but they seemed to be entirely credible and, as I said, quite beautiful to look at. The ability of film to recreate a WWI battlefield, or the Crusader’s port of departure, is worth the asking price alone to the gamer and visualiser of history. I recommend them both, and Kingdom of Heaven will be added to my DVD collection in time.
I had avoided buying any books since January 1st, a five month unbroken run. That is almost cured! Needless to say, I was quite proud. All those Celebrity Gamers languishing in The Priory, please note the awesome willpower of this feat. Eventually, the sheer weight of releases got to me – Osprey announced Elite Sassanid Cavalry and Modelling the Panzer IV in 1/72nd. What is a man to do in the face of such temptation? But still I resisted. In June, after 168 days, I cracked. Flashman on the March was snapped up, and I also succumbed to Shadow of the Wind. All three of Philip Reeve’s clever and exciting children’s books were also quickly added to the ‘read and enjoyed’ pile. On hobby matters, Andrea have a new, reasonably priced (less than £20), book on French Army history, but for me the text is superfluous compared to the colour uniform images. It has many lovely plates including a good selection of Rousselot, Detaille and others. I probably have some of them in other books, but it is nice to have them all in one place and reproduced in such style. Wonderful. Andrea have also announced a book on Painting Horses, which I will doubtless acquire when supplies arrive in the UK. In Paris, at the annual H&C pilgrimage, I picked up a couple of magazine specials, one on 1940 armour is great, as is an excellent compilation depicting ‘The French School’ of figure painting, many of which beggar belief. Say what you will, but the French bring flair to everything they do. I managed to resist the twin volume on French aircraft of 1940, the two superb D-Day Para books and the new one on British Armour in Normandy. Coming soon is the next H&C book on French Hussars, and in November we have Hourtoulle and Jouineau’s 1814 (I was hoping for Waterloo, but we have to work through all the French victories first) which will be irresistible. Meanwhile, I return to my self-imposed abstinence, while eyeing a very large book on Islamic architecture in a local bookshop window…
Dave Ryan at Caliver Books is importing a new range of paints from the Antipodes under the Derivan brand. The range of colours is good at around 50, plus metallics and specials. This is not as large as Vallejo (what is?), but they score on three other important points. They come in large pots (36ml), I found the coverage excellent, and they have that same silky smoothness that characterises the Vallejo black and others, but which is not replicated across the entire Vallejo range. They also seem much more ‘together’, not suffering from that pigment/medium split that requires extensive shaking of Vallejos. Perhaps they just had a bumpy flight over… These paints are highly pigmented, apparently more so than even Foundry, and come out very close to my beloved Chromacolour in intensity – and I can offer no higher praise. The inks are also very intense in colour, and can be considerably reduced to the point of an ultra thin wash or glaze. They also ‘pool’ very nicely without anything more exotic than distilled water as a medium. We are truly spoilt for paints at the moment, with Vallejo, Andrea, Citadel, Coat d’Arms, Miniature Paints, Howard’s Hues and many more. I even have a few Foundry now for flesh tones. Derivan stand well against all of these and I recommend them highly.
Trucks and Tracks and More 20mm Waffle
Most years I get down to Folkestone for Trucks n Tracks. This is very much a modelling show with a firm emphasis on tanks and related figures, in all scales. Usually it is well worth the trip. Sadly the 2005 show was very poorly supported by the buying public, characterised by dealers outnumbering the punters at one point on the Sunday. While great for we shoppers that turned up, being offered individual attention, one can quickly see that this is not sustainable even at the high admission price. I really hope it continues, but it needs something to prevent a rapid demise. Anyway, on the stage the Shepway club had one of their typically excellent games, this time a slice of Italy in 1943 – the Road to Rome. Everything was up to scratch, and this was their first game in 28mm rather than the 20mm scale that they have made their own. To me, it was the same quality but bigger – I remain to be convinced of the scale’s merits and I am not changing anyway!
There is a strange irony at work here. Talk to almost anyone and the feedback is that 28mm is THE scale for WWII at the moment. Why 20mm ‘died’, or fell out of favour, is not explained. But 20mm is in better shape than ever. We have simply superb figures available from AB, Preiser, Newline and many others (check out Elheim.com if you have any doubts), there are top quality 1/72nd tank kits coming out weekly on subjects one could only dream about ten years ago, Dragon can’t make their 1/72nd diecasts quickly enough, HaT, MMS, Cromwell and now Milicast offer gaming ready vehicles (see below), and Braille Scale modelling is the hot topic in the magazines and on the web. And this is a dead scale??? What gives?! I am waiting to be part of the backlash, and am sitting smugly on my HO/OO heritage and, importantly, terrain. Meanwhile, I am planning my Libya 1940 Italian and British forces inspired by Mark White’s stunning game at Alumwell a couple of years back.
Pret a Portee
Elsewhere at Trucks n Tracks, perhaps to prove this counterpoint, there were 20mm kits of every description. Quickly leaving behind a very nice resin 1/72nd Italian M40 da 75/18 priced at over £20 (I really want one, but not that badly!), I moved onto my regular targets: the growing – Cromwell’s Combat Ready, and MMS – and new – Milicast’s Battlefield – ranges of wargame tanks. I have written before about the very high quality of these, taking them close to model status. Interestingly, they are actually getting better as moulding techniques improve and more appealing subjects become available.
MMS had a rather nice Firefly VC and Valentines in marks VIII through XI that captured this strange, but appealing tank perfectly. The diversity of Hanomags and StuG IIIs (very much my favourite AFV) from Milicast is impressive, and of course they solve the problems of zimmerit application in one go. Many of them come with quirky improvised schuerzen, stowage and all possible varieties of mantlet. For me the toughest part is deciding how to paint them (a painting colour/technique guide would be nice at the three websites) and how many to get; at £8 to £10 a model (putting them toe to toe with Dragon’s ‘painted’ range, also highly tempting) it quickly adds up. In the end I escaped with five: an obscure version of the Brummbaer, a lovely little StuG 105mm, a delicate 251/7 Engineer halftrack, an E25 tank destroyer and an E10; effectively a German precursor to the Swedish S Tank – it could raise or lower itself for hull down work. Cool.
I have to say I rather like these late war, “did they, didn’t they?” models. The E100’s, the schmalturm Panthers, the Kitten APC, the skitty little Super Hetzer tank killers. For looks mainly, rather than gun calibres: I am not in the realm of Priapus, infinitely preferring the E10 to the Maus or Tiger III. I am however always conscious of buying resins of blueprint exercises. Why? Because it is pretty hard to find a game opening for them! I think, at some stage, I would relish the sight of a ‘1947’ scenario, featuring the various late war tank prototypes from both sides. Some gamers have expressed concerns about the subject, presumably worried about accusations of extending or glorifying Nazism, or similar. I don’t see that as an issue. Once you cross the 1945 line, you are into science fiction or at least extreme historical speculation. And the game would also feature Allied tanks – either Russian or Western front. And of course, looping back to Ma.K. and Graven Images, both sides could have developed walkers, rocket packs and perhaps robots and SSMs by that time. Time to lie down, Mr. Siggins. Nurse, the screens.