Saturday, 28 April 2012

I'm serious as cancer when I say rhythm is a dancer.

(I always thought that lyric was in slightly poor taste.  Who would have known back then it would be so useful in keeping up the song lyric/post title gimmick in a blog, 20 years later.  Go figure!)

Unfortunately I spoke too soon yesterday when I talked about no nasty side effects.  My father has had a bad reaction to the treatment and has just been taken into hospital by ambulance after a night of ghastly awfulness.  Naturally there's no way I can now get away tomorrow to run the GASLIGHT game I've been working on for the last month.  I'm posting it here as the last way I can think of to get the word out to those who were planning to play.

I'm annoyed and disappointed that I'm forced to let people down like this.  But frankly right now I'm a little more worried about my dad's wellbeing.

(And everyone spare a thought for Bluebear Jeff of Saxe Bearstein.  At the time of writing he should be out of his own cancer surgery and, fingers crossed, on his way to what we all hope will be a speedy recovery. )

Friday, 27 April 2012

Forty-seven ginger headed sailors....

Or twenty of them, at least.  Figures are mainly from Redoubt Miniatures, with Officers and NCOs from Westwind and Foundry.

 Fresh from being Quickshaded.  I can now let the varnish harden properly overnight before doing the bases, otherwise it becomes a bit of a chore trying to keep the sand and flock from sticking to the still tacky varnish.  It also means I can focus tomorrow on sorting out all the figures and terrain and pre-loading the car.

We're the boys in blue...

Naval Brigade update: after an epic four hour painting session yesterday that left my butt numb and my eyes watering, the Naval party is about 80% complete, at least in terms of basic paint job. They just need the white straps and equipment and the usual tidying up before the Quickshade is applied.

The good news, as I type this in the little tea shop at Christies' hospital, my father has just been told that the treatment he's undergoing is one he's had before, which not only means he doesn't have too much to worry about in terms of nasty side effects, but since the procedure only takes a couple of hours, we'll be home in time for me to get a good painting session in this afternoon!

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Rip it up and start again...

Shortly after making the last post, I went outside and ruined some sailors.

Not in the traditional way with "rum, bum and 'baccy" but with Army Painter primer.  I've had 20 these Naval Brigade figures on my painting table for a while that I'd originally primed white, thinking perhaps of a more tropical service uniform.  Of course sailors joining the defence of the homeland are more likely to be in all blue uniforms. Rather than repaint all the jackets & pants by hand, which would probably have taken two coats to get a decent coverage, I decided to cut corners and reprime them with Army Painter Ultramarine Blue, over the existing white.

Big mistake.  The fact that there was already a layer of primer on the figures, combined with me being a little heavy handed with the blue primer, obscured pretty much all detailing on the figures.  The faces looked like unrecognisable blobs, and as soon as I'd finished I knew I'd screwed up.

Straight into the pot of Dettol they went, where it's taken two 24hr passes to get them cleaned up enough to be repainted.   A single, very light coat of Army Painter later, and they're looking much better.  But since I'm losing most of tomorrow to a hospital visit with my father, this means I've got 20 figures to paint in the rest of today and Saturday, while also getting everything together for the game on Sunday.  Which is about as fast as I've ever painted any figures.

(takes deep breath)

ready... set... paint!

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Big time. I'm on my way I'm making it.

I hope everyone appreciated the tongue in cheek nature of the previous post roasting mi hermano competitivo Jonesy.  He remains my best friend and someone I'd crawl over broken glass for.  But he is a recovering competitive gamer (despite protests to the contrary) and though he now seeks to follow the path of the Gentleman Wargamer, occasionally we get a glimpse of the younger, meaner Jonesy peeking through (You should have seen the merciless drubbing he delivered to his own daughter, when we persuaded her to play in the March Madness Melee game recently.  It was brutal!)  Anyway suffice it to say that the affair last week was entirely good natured and all accusations of drug-addlement, senility or self-delusion on either side were delivered amidst gales of laughter.

Anyway as promised, I have photos of current works in progress/near completion.

Here are the completed rocky hills.  The rock faces were drybrushed in progressively lighter shades of grey & light sand.  Then I sprinkled a good layer of budgie sand along the pathways before flocking the rest of the horizontal surfaces.  I used a darker than usual flock colour (Javis "Moorland Mix" but blended it in a few places with a slightly lighter shade (some old GW flock I had lying around)  The ground level was then flocked with my standard Javis Mid-G|reen.

I'm quite happy with the results.  I've thought about adding some vegetation, but I normally use lichen as loose scatter on the tabletop and will probably just scatter  Shifting the plane of the polystyrene sheets from horizontal to vertical makes for a much more natural looking hill, though for reasons of practicality it's not going to replace the traditional hill for gentler rolling countryside.  A number of figures can be stood on either side of the hill on the pathway, enough room maybe for a 10 man GASLIGHT unit in 28mm.  In 15mm or even 6mm these would look even more impressive.  I'm probably going to want to knock up a few more of these at some point.

Next up is the railway station, converted from a OO scale Airfix kit to something better suited to 28mm.  The brickwork "skirting" around the base is brick paper over balsa wood and adds an extra cm to the building height, which is all it needs to  look usable for 28mm.  The main doorways front and back were enlarged and filled with scratchbuilt doors, as was the side door.  Of the two other platform-facing doors, one was left as is and now looks like just another window, the other was removed and a counter added above the skirting turning it into something like a ticket window.  All that remains to be done is for a few details to be touched up and a printed clock face to be glued to the circular mount above the doorway (which was originally an old popper stud).

It's not prizewinning material, but it says "railway station" and it looks OK with 28mm figures.  It'll do for the sort of small rural stops that tend to crop up in wargames terrains.  As mentioned previously I've also got a signal box that's coming along nicely.

Next a much rougher work in progress.  This is what will be Birnbeck Pier for the Battle of Weston-super-Mare.  The black blob on the left is a raised promenade area with steps to serve as an interface between the ground surface and the raised pier.  It's a solid block of polystyrene, with cutouts for balsa steps and some card texturing work.  It will be painted a sandy-stone colour before the game.  The pier itself is as seen before, and the seaward end will be connected to a regular wargames hill representing the island on which the "end of the pier entertainments" building will sit.

Finally the big project that's been distracting me from this terrain building.  It's in a slightly larger scale than I'm used to doing for gaming., roughly 1828mm scale, or 304mm to the foot, for all you model railroaders out there.

This is going to be my bedroom when I have to move in to take care of my father 24/7 rather than simply coming here every day.  As you know I don't normally like to talk about non-gaming-related matters here, but I mention it because I was amused to find out that the techniques that I'd normally use painting miniatures and terrain pieces actually translated rather well to this full-scale job.  My normal technique for painting is to first get the paint on with as good a coverage as possible, then make several passes over the model correcting mistakes, neatening up edges and generally tidying up. Applying the same technique here saw me making the final "neatening up" pass with a size 8 brush which is the biggest I use for gaming painting (I usually use it for final Quickshade coating or terrain pieces).  The results have even impressed the old man, who is a retired painter and decorator by trade.

Still far too many projects on the to-do list.  But for next Sundays game all that's left is to paint the 20 man Naval Party, finish the pier and the MDF railings.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Winning the Battle of Who Could Care Less.

Real Life 1.... Timely and Frequent Blog Updates, Nil.

'Nuff said?

Actually between real life demands I have been rather busy on the terrain making front.  The rocky hills are finished and I'm very happy with the results.. photos later.  The dollhouse collection has grown to four buildings in varying states of conversion, including a successful experiment with Instant Mold to create copies of windows.. again photos later.  Incidentally I had a very encouraging reply from Mr Dodo (the wargamer responsible for the Shamlingham terrain that inspired this little project.)  Work on the pier for the Battle of Weston super-Mare has also continued, with a piece to transition between ground level and the elevated pier.

I've also been experimenting with the conversion of 00 scale railway buildings into something suitable for 28mm.  This is a lot easier than you might think.  Provided you're happy to accept buildings with a slightly too small footprint, the key indicator of scale is the height of doorways.  If you cover over existing doorways with 28mm scaled replacements you wind up with a petite but acceptable building that looks like 28mm figures could fit into, albeit a touch snugly. They may not fit well with other, correctly scaled buildings but for isolated specials they do.

The other advantage with this approach is that it's possible to pick up bargain 2nd hand buildings on eBay, especially those that have been salvaged from old railway layouts or have otherwise seen better days.  I got an Airfix signal box, missing the steps and railings (which I had to rebuild for 28mm anyway) for a couple of pounds including postage, and a set of two Airfix station buildings for about four pounds.  One station building I've built up with an extended "skirt" of balsa wood and added 28mm doors scratchbuilt from card. The other I'm going to leave for now and just spray white as an "end of the pier" building, to be returned to later.

Photos... yes you've guessed it... Later.

Onto the main reason for writing this post, the battle report of last weekends GASLIGHT game testing the new morale rules.

But first a word about gentlemanly conduct.

Or to borrow archaic cricket terminology, the difference between Gentlemen and Players.  A Gentleman plays for the joy of the game and though he doesn't mind yielding when the honours of the day have clearly gone against him, he expects the same treatment from his, presumably, honourable opponent.  A Player on the other hand sees winning as everything, and will stoop to any means, no matter how low, in order to secure a win.  He will twist the rules to his advantage, and even... as a completely random example... call a game to a halt as the tide of battle turns against him, only to turn around and later argue that he would have one, if only the game had continued.

Sadly this game, while for the most part seeming to be a most Gentlemanly affair, turned out somewhat soured by the post-game conduct of one Player.  The Gentlemanly war correspondent must, however, put such petty bitterness behind him and report the facts as they stand.  In that spirit, I shall endeavour to relay the following battle report in as honest and impartial a manner as I can.

The game, in addition to being a test of the new Morale rules, was to be the first outing of my brave Fenian Brotherhood boys against the forces of British Imperialism.  My opponent was some unwashed, unshaven ne'er-do-well dragged in off the street, you know the sort of uncouth ruffian who scorns a genteel Family Sunday in favour of some common dicing game.  Certainly no-one I'd characterise as friend or mock-hispanic-kin-by-choice, and his name shall not sully this account with its presence.  Before his arrival I had laid out most of a terrain on my 4x4 table, including the Amera Mouldings church with its Renedra Plastics graveyard (two more debuts).  While I fulfilled my hostly duties in preparing a hot beverage for my guest, he completed the setup by adding such details as, no doubt, he saw would benefit his forces in the long run.  When deciding which direction of the table to fight across, I absent-mindedly rotated the table by 90 degrees, a development which my opponent  responded to with glee, clearly seeing further advantage.
The field of (dis)honour

We decided to do a game of staged reinforcements, although I was somehow gulled into starting with only two units of militia and a steam wagon facing three units of regulars and a small landship.  Against such odds I deployed in what cover I could, one unit of boys in the village hall, the other in the churchyard (though as good, respectful Catholic boys, they didn't profane the church itself with their armed presence) accompanied by the noted Fenian hero Seamus O'Hooligan. (to any readers expecting political correctness on this report... oy vey have you got the wrong blog!)

The Brits came on up the road, with the landship in the middle and the infantry spread out on either side.  A lucky shot at long range from the village hall scored first blood, but the return fire sent the Fenian militia ducking away from the windows. This was the first failed morale check of the game.  Strictly speaking the Fall Back result should have forced the militia back to just outside the building, but my opponent in an uncharacteristic bout of good manners suggested that they might merely duck away from the windows to the back of the hall.  This seemed like such a good idea that I've since incorporated it into the new rules, allowing troops in heavy cover to "hunker down" in place instead of falling back.

The Fenian Militia in the graveyard
On the Fenian right, O'Hooligan and the second militia unit took cover among the gravestones where they were faced with assault from first one then two units of British regulars.  Although the boys gave a good accounting of themselves for a couple of turns, they were forced back by weight of fire leaving O'Hooligan alone and caught in a crossfire to which he quickly succumbed.

The boys in the Village Hall took further casualties from the advancing Brits including their leader, causing them to flee their position (a "half fall back, half skedaddle" result).  The unit regrouped and rallied on the far side of the main street, but this allowed the Brits to advance unopposed up to the far left side of the village.

The duel of the steam tanks
Meanwhile in the centre we initially had a splendid gunnery duel between the Fenian steam wagon and the British light landship.  The Fenian wagon's gun fell strangely silent and its crew remained inactive for a couple of turns however.  As the third turn of inactivity I was compelled to raise the matter with my opponent who it transpired while serving as the guardian of the initiative card deck had "accidentally" dropped the steam wagon's card on the floor at his feet.  With their ability to act returned to them, the Fenian gunners scored a direct hit on the British landship, jamming the steering and spurring the cowardly crew to bail out (although somehow the landship never got to make the compulsory "turn left" move, and the British player argued that instead of falling back the 6" required by the morale result, the crew should just take cover behind their stricken vehicle, allowing them to return to action more quickly.)

The Militia defence of the graveyard had taken a heavy
toll on the two units of attacking Brits.
On the left the rallied Fenian militia managed to catch a couple of the flanking Brits as they sprinted across main street.  The Brits still came on in the same old fashion, around the side and charging into the back of the militia's position.  They failed morale and fell back 6", across to the other side of the road.  The Fenian Steam Wagon, the threat of the British Landship momentarily removed, fell back to support them and its main gun caught the flanking Brits killing a couple and sending them falling back.

It was around this time that the first of the Fenian reinforcements arrived on table - a unit of regular infantry and an armoured car armed with a Nordenfelt machine gun and led by the Fenian brigade commander.  Unfortunately I made a mistake blocking the road with the infantry which stopped the armoured car taking advantage of its fast road move and getting to the fight sooner.  The Militia in the graveyard rallied long enough to inflict a couple more casualties on the British infantry before being all but wiped out and forced to flee the field.  The following turn though the Fenian Brotherhood regulars made it to the graveyard fence and renewed the fire on the British, supported by the Armoured Car's Nordenfelt.  The Brigade Commander headed left to join the leaderless militia there and rally them into a force that would be able to hold off the Brits in the village.
Fenian reinforcements.   Hurrah!

The final act of the battle saw one of the two British units attacking the graveyard take a couple of casualties and fail morale, causing them to skedaddle off the table.  It was at this point that the British player called an end to the game.  We even shook hands on the matter.

It was while we were halfway through clearing away the terrain that I made an off-hand comment that I was pleased the Fenians had done well on their first outing.  It was at this point that my weaselly opponent informed me that the game was in fact a British victory, that the unit that skedaddled had not in fact left the table running directly away from the cause of the casualties but had somehow run at an angle allowing them to remain on the table.  Thus reinforced, he explained, his surviving forces would have been able to brush my remaining defenders aside.  Sadly this was not the first time this particular player had argued for a post-game victory based on the result of turns not played.

As no amount of reasoning seemed likely to dissuade him from his "victory" and he even refused to accept that the battle should be allowed to impact the ongoing narrative campaign that ALL my GASLIGHT games are a part of, my opponent was asked to leave the premises, after which I made a count of the silverware to ensure it was all still accounted for.

From this sad tale, we can learn three important lessons...

1) Once a competitive gamer, always a competitive gamer.
2) Every wargame, even a casual friendly like this one, should have clear cut victory conditions.
3) Do not.. I repeat... do NOT piss off a writer.  They'll make you famous.    

"I will eviscerate you in fiction. Every pimple, every character flaw. I was naked for a day; you will be naked for eternity." - Chaucer, A Knight's Tale 

Monday, 16 April 2012

Start me with ten who are stout-hearted men...

Yesterday mi hermano del abogado Jonesy came round and we finally got to playtest the new GASLIGHT Morale house rules.  I don't have time to do the full battle report right now, but one will be forthcoming soon.  I'd like to talk about the rules, which I'm afraid is going to be of zero interest to non-GASLIGHT players.

The new rules worked really well, hitting all the goals I'd set for them.  They certainly didn't seem any slower to check than the original rules, and the result of a failure was much quicker to implement.  I was playing with two units of militia, which were quite fragile and as a result we saw a couple of cases where a unit failed morale, was scattered and had to spend a turn or two reforming, but then were able to return to the fight.

We came up with a couple of tweaks based on things that happened in the game.  I had a unit in heavy cover inside a building that failed morale.  According to the rules wot I writ, they should have fallen back 6" which would have put them outside the building (and left the whole flank undefended).  Jonesy suggested that instead they just fall back away from the windows but remain inside the building.

Another one that came up was a vehicle that received a Fall Back result, but couldn't reasonably have made that mandatory move having taken a steering hit.  We decided that instead the crew should bail out and complete the move instead.  In the following turn we looked at it again and decided that instead of running away from the vehicle, a crew forced to bail out would instead take cover behind their stricken machine, but that the vehicle would be treated as having failed Sustain.  That way provided they weren't killed or driven off, it would take a turn for the crew to re-enter the vehicle and resume their stations and on the following turn they could make Service or Start rolls.  The aim of this is to make the effect of failed morale a penalty, but not a catastrophic one.  Losing 2 turns in the scope of a 7 or 8 turn game seems to fit the bill.

We also started thinking in more detail about unattached main characters taking control of units. which is something we'd started doing casually in the last big game.   What we would up with was different effects for two different circumstances.  Effectively we'd allowed an MC to share their activation card with an adjacent troop unit that hadn't already acted that turn.  The troop unit would take its turn immediately, and would ignore its own activation card when it came up in the deck.

But then we started considering what happens when a unit loses its leader figure - original GASLIGHT suggests units of eight Extras and two Main Characters (NCO and Officer) but typically we've been playing with nine extras and one Officer, with some units having sergeant figures among the extras.  This streamlines things a bit giving players fewer sets of attributes to keep track of in a unit.  After toying around with a few options for lost leaders, we decided to raise the morale penalty from +1 to +2.  A sergeant or another ranker would instantly take over and the unit could act normally  provided it passed its morale, but +2 penalty would be permanent, making them more brittle in combat.  The only way it could be removed would be for an unattached Main Character to permanently take command of the unit, in which case either the unit or the character's card would be removed from the initiative deck (we don't generally use heroes, but if we did I'd say remove the unit's card leaving the hero's two initiative cards in the deck.)  Army leaders, we decided, would still give their additional -2 morale bonus to the unit they took command of, but would be so busy micromanaging they wouldn't be able to give that bonus to other allied units.

So there you have two different ways of MCs "taking command" - one giving a unit a temporary leg-up on initiative, the other taking permanent command.  I think we reached a verbal consensus on this, now I have to work out how to phrase it clearly in "rules-English".

So without further ado, here are the latest revision of the GASLIGHT Morale and Tests Of Manhood house rules.  They should still be fairly easy to slot into the existing game, and are now playtested with the Dr Vesuvius Seal Of Approval.

GASLIGHT Morale and Tests of Manhood - Vesuvian Reforms 0.3

It was a very useful game session as we're starting to re-read the rules with a critical eye - and in some cases actually playing the rules as written rather than the rules we though we read somewhere.  For example it was only in a recent read-through that I realised I'd been doing unit integrity wrong for at least a year ("each figure of a unit within 3" of another", instead of the correct "all figures of a unit within 12" of the leader")

It was also an exceedingly fun game.  Though more of that later when time permits.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

We'll drink-a-drink-a-drink to Lily the Pink-a-pink-a-pink...


Sometimes a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do.

So I was so impressed with the rustic charms of Shamlingham from the previous post that I had to try copy some of the buildings the creator had converted.  This involved ordering two sets of "It's Girl's Stuff!!" carry-along doll houses from eBay, which worked out at about £6 each.

They arrived today.

My god.  The pinkness!  The pinkness!
Once I'd gotten over the saccharine overload, I started pouring over the photos from GWP to determine exactly what had been done with them.  The toy as designed has two different house frontages hinged together to form a carry case which opens up into a four-room dollhouse.  Scalewise they look pretty much spot on for 28mm.

The simplest build with them was to take two matching halves and glue them back to back.   This I could just about manage, and got as far as filling in the join with greenstuff.

Shamlingham's creator, who goes by the handle "Mr Dodo" on GWP, seems to have done some more extensive rebuilds on the other half.  I've sent him an email asking for more details on what he's done.

£6 for a cheap plastic toy like this is a little on the high side, but £6 for what will become a decent sized and detailed wargame building.. that's not too bad.

We had a fairly freakish hailstorm today which kept me from spending any time outside painting the mountains, so it was a day for indoor tinkering.  As well as the pink houses I've received a couple of sets of laser-cut MDF railings from Fenris Games.  These really push the envelope of what's possible... or dare I say it advisable, using this new medium.

Both styles cost 6.99 for roughly 1.5m, though they come in lengths of roughly 28-30cm.  The lengths are a little irregular, and for both styles I received 5 full length strips and one at about 20cm long.  While you certainly get at least your 1.5m total length, the problem is that it becomes difficult to produce terrain pieces of consistent length without wasting a lot of material.  For example, I might want to make 15cm long railing pieces.  I can do that efficiently if the segment I've got is over 30cm.  When a couple are 29cm, one 28mm etc, then I'm forced to do smaller segments.. if I cater to the smallest size, say doing two 14cm strips, then I'm going to be throwing away bits of the longer segments.  In the end I just bit the bullet and made up irregular lengths making the most efficient use of what I had.

The other problem with these railings is that they're really pushing the envelope of what's possible with 2mm MDF.   Some of the cuts are incredibly fine, the MDF left behind is only 1mm thick.  The simpler design of railings were relatively sturdy, but the ornate Canterbury railings were incredibly flimsy and vulnerable to breakages.  In addition, there were a lot of "hanging chads", where the cutout pieces hadn't been cut-out and removed cleanly.  It was about a half hour's work to poke all the tiny pieces out with a craft knife, and even then I found one or two sections where the laser hadn't cut all the way through the MDF.  Some I was able to cutout manually, but others were just too fiddly.  I wound up "losing" about 10cm from each railing type due to this wastage.

All that said, these are absolutely gorgeous.  I don't expect the Canterbury railings to have a particularly long lifespan on the wargames table, they're just too delicate.  But maybe some paint might make them a little more rugged.  They were easier to work with than the plastic railings I've used before, which required quite a bit of cleaning up as well as assembly and were less flexible in terms of length.  I'd definitely recommend the simpler and sturdier Brunswick railings.  The ornate but fragile Canterbury... honestly I'd prefer if they were cut a little thicker and sturdier, as I just don't think these are going to last more than a few games ever with careful handling - they're already showing plenty of battle damage and I've not even finished painting them.

Finally some overdue photos - no more progress on the pier, but this is where I'm up to at the moment...

... and a couple of slightly overgrown looking decorative garden pieces.  These are going to be scattered here and there in urban boards surrounded by railings or walls, or laid out in the grounds of the Amera Ministry building when it's pretending to be a stately home.  The bulk of the vegetation is dried moss from the garden.  It's my first effort using it, hopefully with practice I can get the flower beds looking a little bit neater in future.

Monday, 9 April 2012

Or the mountains should crumble to the sea

Another day of tinkering with little terrain projects in between family duty.  I've been working out a rough terrain layout for the Battle Of Weston-Super-Mare scenario, which is going to require a couple of new items.

First there's the matter of the pleasure pier.  The current pier is a rebuild of the Grand Pier that burnt down in 2008 and it turns out that one was only built in 1904, which sits outside our time frame.  Before that the town was served by Birnbeck Pier, located further north up the coast.  Birnbeck is actually an island linked to the mainland by a 300yd long wooden pier.  All the buildings are on the island part and although disused and dilapidated may still be seen today (through the wonders of Google Maps!)

So for the wargame it will be represented by a simple wooden pier connecting to a standard wargames hill out in the sea.  Some liberties will have to be taken with its exact location in relation to the Telegraph office, in order to keep it within the bounds of a 6ftx6ft table, but it'll still be vaguely representative at least.  To that end I started knocking together something out of balsa wood.

Scoring all those planks was actually fairly quick and painless.  The supports are simple inch lengths of balsa strips.  Theoretically there ought to be cross-braces down there, but the model seemed sturdy enough without them so I skipped that step.  I couldn't decide which would be more useful - a pier with a sand base or a pier with a water base.  So I compromised - painting a few water pools on the base and texturing the rest with sand.  The whole lot will be treated with gloss varnish to give the impression of waterlogged sand with lots of water pools.

After that I went on to add posts for railings along the sides of the pier (using round headed pins) and gave the wood a burnt umber basecoat and the posts in black.  It should just be a matter of linking up the railings, treating the base and then drybrushing everything.  Although it's not needed for the Weston battle, I will be working on an "End Of The Pier-Show" building on a separate 8"x6" section which will hopefully connect to the end of this pier.  It also occurs to me that the landward side will be about an inch above the tabletop, so I've got an idea for a simple interface piece of terrain - watch this space.

(In case it seems strange that I'm spending so much time on a terrain piece of such limited use, bear in mind that I've got plans for a second seaside clash in the Battle Of Llandudno, mentioned in a previous post.  Besides it wasn't much more than an hour and a half spent on the pier today, and it's probably about 75% complete)

One thing I realised from the March Mayhem Melee game is that you can only represent an incredibly small urban area on a 6 foot wargames table.  Even the smallest hamlet represented accurately is likely to fill half the board.  Our "Weston-super-mare" is going have to be a very abstracted, almost caricature version of the real place.  For example, Google Maps shows a lot of small parks and ornamental gardens scattered around the town.  To represent them I've taken a single 30cm square vinyl floor tile and cut it into two 15cm squares and a 15cm x 30cm rectangle.  These have been flocked and the two smaller sections decorated with ornamental flowerbeds - a base of tea-leaf flocking for earth with dried moss from the garden painted to roughly simulate flowers.  It wouldn't win any rosettes at Chelsea, but it'll do for wargaming purposes.  Sadly I forgot to take any photos of these, so once again.. watch this space.
Left - raw filler, Right - covered in PVA, Sand and Plaster "goop"

Finally, by the end of the day the filler on the rocky hills I started yesterday had dried enough to move onto the next step.  I mixed up a fairly noxious mix of PVA, sand and Plaster of Paris.  PVA and sand creates an incredibly tough shell with a highly abrasive surface.  I've seen someone lean unwisely on a PVA and sand terrain piece and actually draw blood.  Adding the plaster to the mix will, I hope, make it a little less belligerent once dried.  Both test hills were painted with the resultant goop, which totally ravaged the old paintbrush I was using.

You could probably skip either the filler or the "goop" stage in the process.  Skipping the filler would give the hills a more artificial and less rounded appearance.  Skipping the goop would probably result in a terrain piece slightly more vulnerable to chipping.  I did a quick experiment with a 28mm figure and while there are a couple of points where the slope sends a figure sliding, I reckon there are enough sufficiently flat areas for a 10 man unit to occupy either side of each hill.  Altogether it's a case of so far so good.

Tomorrow I'll give them both a coat of black exterior masonry paint, then time permitting start working out which areas are to be drybrushed as rock faces, flocked as grass or gritted as mountain pathways.

Finally, if you haven't already seen them, take a look at these absolutely gorgeous pictures from the VBCW Battle of Shamlingham.  Here and more here.
Picture shamelessly stolen from the Gentlemen's Wargame Parlour.
Seriously, I'll nick anything that's not nailed down, I will.
What I really love about this Shamlingham terrain is the way that the individual pieces come together to give the impression of a cohesive, if slightly eclectic, whole.  If you look ultra-critically you can see a lot of flaws in the pieces - a warped baseboard not quite lying true, wall texturing that looks stuck-on.  But at the end of the day if you step back and look, you see what's undeniably an English rural village that looks like a living, breathing community.  Doubly amazing, when you realise that many of those buildings started out as mini doll houses (the sort of playset you find in the "pink" aisles at Toys-R-Us).  Seriously!  Some of those buildings were originally home to Sylvanian Families of rabbits and squirrels.

Seeing this has really motivated me to start improving my own rural village terrain.  Half a dozen card model buildings isn't going to hack it any more.  *sigh* Time to hit eBay once more.  At least it's a good excuse to go back and watch Lark Rise to Candleford again.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

The hills are alive...

Once again events prove the old military adage "No battle plan survives contact with the enemy" as plans for a wargame this Good Friday fell through due to Family Duty.

Instead I've been tinkering with an idea that... I'm not entirely sure I can call it my own.  We're all familiar with the classic "wargame hill" made up of stepped layers of foam or polystyrene.  They may look unrealistic compared to properly sculpted and modelled hills, but the practical advantages mean they're ubiquitous in the wargaming world.

Well I was reading a fairly snarky blog post which decried the traditional stepped hill and offered an alternative method, involving layering bark chippings around a polystyrene core then filling in the gaps and building up with filler.  The results are undeniably gorgeous, however I'd argue the results are much more like mountainous terrain than rolling countryside.  Looking ate both the inspirational images of real terrain and the blogger's modelled results, it struck me that the main difference between his hills and the traditional hill is that the "flow" of the realistic hilly terrain runs vertically or diagonally.  Our traditional stepped wargames hills are aligned horizontally, which kinda works for some "mesa" type terrains, but not western european rocky terrain.

So I thought "Why not use layers of polystyrene, but align them vertically  instead of horizontally?"

Picture shamelessly stolen from Bob's Colonial Wargaming site.
The idea originates, as many do, with the long lost Major General Tremorden Rederring's Colonial Wargames Page.  The Major General  pioneered the idea of "profile mountain" terrain, based on 2d cutouts.  Back in the day I had quite an impressive mountain range built on those lines, though I mainly used it as a backdrop rather than an active terrain element.  Bob Cordery is one of the other gamers I know who built his own version of the Major General's profile mountains.  Bob then took it one stage further and used thick blocks of balsa wood layered vertically to make hills.  This page shows samples of both.

So "my" idea was to use polystyrene sheets much as Bob had used balsa blocks, but to fill and blend them together with filler to try to get a balance between the aesthetics of the 3t Studios hills and the practicality of the stepped layers.

A couple of pre-cut 3mm MDF baseboards were liberated from the stalled Victorian slum scratchbuilding  project and the corners rounded off.  I then started hacking away at a sheet of inch thick polystyrene insulation, starting with a mountain-shaped profile for the highest ridgeline.  I wanted these hills to represent rocky elevations that were impassable to vehicles or cavalry, but with the appearance that infantry could clamber over it via rocky mountain paths.  So the lower contours were shaped to only provide platforms for figures to stand on, but also to give the impression of a winding path.

The separate bits of polystyrene were temporarily held together using cocktail sticks.  Offcuts of polystyrene were used to fill large gaps and round out any large flat areas.  Then the assembled hill was glued to the base board using PVA adhesive and left overnight to stick.  This morning I started with the pre-mixed polyfilla, filling in all the gaps, rounding off joints and roughening up flat surfaces.  At the time of writing, the two hills are completely filled and being left for a couple of days for the filler to dry completely.  Once that's done, I'm going to sand the filler in places, give the whole lot a coat of PVA and sand as a nice tough protective shell, then it'll be a matter of painting & texturing.

Things are looking good so far.  If these two test hills work out, I'm planning to produce a couple more of the same size, plus a few smaller "rocky outcrops" using the same method.  Watch this space.

Monday, 2 April 2012

I had four green fields, each one was a jewel.

So this one time in Heaven, God went missing for a week.  On the seventh day, the Archangel Michael went looking for him and found the Great Architect resting on a cloud, looking down at a blue-green world.

"Michael, " the Creator said.  "Come down and have a look at this, will you?  'tis me new project I've been working on.  It's a new world, called Earth, and everything there will be in perfect balance?"

"How so, Lord?" said Michael, for when the boss is keen to show off his new toy, it's smart to be appropriately interested.

"See there?" God pointed at a strung-out continent running from north to south. "That's called America, and in that continent there will be great wealth in the north, balanced by great poverty in the south.  And over here, see this continent to the north, cold and filled with pale skinned peoples?  That's balanced by this big continent in the south filled with dark skinned peoples and hotter than the divil's own oven."

Michael shifted uneasily, uncomfortable at the mention of The Adversary, but also not quite sure whether the great lord Jehovah had quite gotten the idea of what "balanced" meant.  But still keen to show interest, he pointed at a small island "What's that green place there?"

"Ah now," said "I'm especially fond of that place.  It's called the Emerald Isle, and it's home to the most beautiful countryside, rolling hills and lush forests, and crystal clear lochs.  No serpent shall dwell there. The people of this land will have great spirit, and will travel the world over as poets and playwrights, singers and saints.  And there'll be this drink, a stout ale blacker than the darkest night, that they'll all go mad for, and people will travel from all round the world just to drink it."

The Archangel Michael pondered for a moment before saying "Lord, it sounds wonderful, but is it too wonderful?  The people of this land sound like they're triply blessed to live in such a place.  Where, Lord, is the balance?"

And God looked wisely at Michael and said "Ah now, just wait 'til you see the bastards they're getting fer next-door neighbours."


By the mid 19th century, Ireland had been under English rule for.. well too long.  Irishmen had emigrated to the four corners of the world, but still clung fiercely to their roots.  Many regiments raised in the American Civil War characterised themselves as "Irish" as a matter of pride.  When that war concluded in 1865 it left a large number of battle-hardened men, trained in modern warfare, with nothing to do but look to home.

In another world, they may have wasted their energies with raids against Canada, or been betrayed by traitors from within.  But the US government saw an opportunity to use these expatriate soldiers to plant a thorn in the side of the world's greatest superpower.  Anglo-American relations at this time were not great, and Britain had come close to interceding in the Civil War on the side of the Confederacy.  An Irish uprising could keep Britain too busy on their side of the Atlantic to think of further interference in American affairs.  President Johnson, at the urging of his intelligence chiefs, authorised covert support for an Irish rebellion, to be spearheaded by Irish-American veterans returning to free their homeland.

US agents made contact with the leaders of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, the main pro-independence group with an estimated 100,000 followers across Ireland and the rest of Britain.  The IRB were only too grateful for the promise of funding, weapons and experienced troops.  Pinkerton agents were soon able to wheedle out those in the Irish organisation who were still secretly loyal to the British, and with those potential security risks purged, planning for a general rising began in earnest.  The leaders of the revitalised independence movement took the name "Fenians" (pronounced FEE-nee-ans) after the bands of Celtic warriors from Irish legends.

In early 1867, the Fenians struck.  Some 20,000 Irish-American veterans were landed in countless bays along the coastline and moved quickly to disrupt telegraph and rail communications links.  Simultaneously, IRB groups on the mainland staged a number of disruptive attacks aimed at confusing the British and slowing down any possible response.  Ports were blown up, Royal arsenals were raided and trains derailed.  These diversionary tactics gave the IRB the time they needed to deal with the British forces in Ireland.

Across the country, bands of IRB volunteers gathered together and using whatever weapons they could gather, struck out at the British.  The occupying forces were taken by surprise, and before they could respond, the rebels had joined up with the veteran Irish-American forces, who brought with them the latest in scientific weaponry.  The British troops were far from beaten however, and within a few days had managed to launch a series of counter attacks into rebel held territory.  Fighting continued for weeks, further re-inforced from the mainland once the British Government had recovered from the shock attack.  Eventually affairs settled down into a clear stalemate.  The British clampdown in the north meant that the Fenians could no longer hope to extend their territory any further without suffering unthinkable losses of life and materiel.

The Fenians had failed to liberate all of Ireland, but the southern end of the country, roughly equivalent to the ancient kingdom of Munster, was securely in their hands. In December 1867 they declared this to be the Free Irish Republic, which with significant financial and diplomatic pressure from the US, the British were forced to acknowledge.  Over the following few years, things settled into an uneasy cold war between the Republic and the British territory in the north.  New ironclad monitors of US design and construction flew the Fenian flag up and down the south Irish coast, putting paid to any hope of a counter-invasion.  There were countless skirmishes along the border, but nothing sufficient to re-spark a full-blown war.  It wasn't until the Russo-German Invasion of England in 188x that the Irish Republican Brotherhood saw the perfect opportunity to restart the struggle for Irish independence.  But not only would Fenian troops push north in the Emerald Isle, two expeditionary forces were sent across the Irish Sea to land in Liverpool and Wales.


Plausible?  Who cares!  It gives me an excuse to field my green-clad Fenian army and opens up another front in the Invasion Of England campaign!

The boys in green parade as Wellington's statue burns in the backround.
This was another bumper painting week - all but two of the infantry in this picture were completed in the space of a week - 62 figures.   The vehicles I've spotlighted before in a previous posting.  Not pictured - one steam tractor armed with a pair of assault guns, a unit of cavalry (or possibly two) and an ironclad "Iron Brigade" trooper.  None of which have been painted up yet.

On the left are two units of irregular volunteer/militia, inspired by some of the great units you can see gracing VBCW battlefields.  They're a fairly random selection with WWII partizans rubbing shoulders with ACW draft rioters.  All were given a greenstuff armband and one or two that looked too modern were given slight conversions.  They look to me like a bunch of lads from all walks of life who've come together in a common cause with whatever firearms they can lay their hands on.  Although nominally part of the Fenian army, I've got the figures for a number of similar irregular units, which will have different colour armbands, all of which could be used whenever I need irregular troops for a scenario (local British francs-tireurs against invading Prussians, anti-Crown rebels in A Very Victorian Civil War, Scottish guerillas ambushing Tsarist forces)  I'm really happy with the way they came out, every man jack of 'em is a character.
The Irregular Volunteers
In the centre and right are two companies of Fenian regulars, the Republic's standing army built around the cadre of Irish-American ACW veterans.  While by 188x many of these troops will be native born Irishmen, I'd argue that the units' heritage and traditions would encourage a fashion for American styled beards & moustaches!  Although I'm not personally fussy about what rifles figures are armed with, the Springfield musket would be appropriate right up until around 1890.  The original gun was a muzzle-loading black-powder percussion cap rifle, with over 700,000 weapons made.  After the war many of these were given the "Trapdoor Springfield" conversion which converted them into a modern breechloading cartridge-firing rifle, comparable with the British Martini-Henry.  Trapdoor Springfields were the US Army's main rifle until 1892.  With my daub 'n' dip painting, I'd argue that the differences between the 1861 musket and the 1873 Trapdoor models wouldn't be noticeable in 28mm.
The leader, Col Kelly is waving his legendarily outsized top hat.
I used milliput to convert his original slouch hat into something
resembling the comical "leprechaun hats" you can buy for
St Patricks Day.
Centre front is the standard bearer, who may or may not be swapped into one of the regular units in play.  Behind them is a group of three "bombers".  Now I've posted before about my thoughts on fielding a potentially controversial army like the Fenians, and let me tell you now that having figures on the table that are just one letter away from being called "IRA bombers" is right up there on the raggedy edge of my personal comfort zone.  But the fact remains that "dynamiting" was a tactic used by the real-world Fenians after their 1867 rising fizzled.  I also wanted something to make the Fenians distinct from the other VSF forces I'm fielding.  Since the Fenian vehicles are on the whole lacking in heavy weapons, these "bomber" Main Characters give them a much needed anti-vehicle capability.  Plus I'd like to think that having a figure in a green domino mask tossing a black sphere with a fizzing fuse and "BOMB" written on it in big white letters isn't going to be misinterpreted as support for real life terrorists.

So I finally have my Fenian VSF army, first dreamt of way back in the early Noughties.  I'm feeling a bit burnt-out on figure painting so it could be a while before they get their cavalry troop.  With a bit of luck I'm hoping to give these boys an airing in a test game sometime over the Easter weekend.