Thursday, 31 December 2009

Playing With My Xmas Pressie!!

Today all the guests and visitors had finally gone, and I had my painting table back to myself again.

But before I brought in all the modelling bits and pieces down from the loft and in from the garage, I decided to break open my "unofficial" Xmas present, the 4th expansion set for Commands & Colors: Ancients. Imperial Rome.

I was aching to see how the C&C: Ancients system handled Caltrops and the new Cataphract units, both Camel and Cavalry. The answer was; very simply and elegantly, and the rules work really well.

Using Cavalry to chase away Light Foot now becomes a very risky business indeed. Before, the Light Foot had to choose to stand and fight if they were to inflict any losses at all on attacking Cavalry, and that was usually a foolhardy decision to take. Instead, they would usually evade, reducing their chances of casualties but also totally negating the possibility of inflicting any.

With the Caltrop rules, those Light Foot units listed as being equipped with caltrops (which are scenario dictated) may still choose to evade attacking Cavalry for all the usual benefits (the attacking unit will only hit them on a Circle symbol, and cannot follow up into the vacated hex), but now, the attacking Cavalry can face total disaster! Every Sword symbol rolled on the attack they make, results in a hit against themselves!

The heavily armoured Cataphract Camel and Cavalry units gain the ability to ignore the first Sword result in any Close Combat. This is not a massive advantage and doesn't make them supermen, but it can make a difference.

I picked a scenario that would allow me to try out both of the Cataphract units, and the caltrops. The battle was Nisibis - 217AD, between the Parthians led by Atrabanus IV and a Roman force led by Macrinus. It was a solo game, with me developing a split personality and taking what I genuinely thought would be the best move available for each side, given the cards available.

It was a large battle by C&C: Ancients standards, with around 25 units on the Parthian side and 20 on the Roman. I'm not going to go into a blow-by-blow account, but the game was a see-saw fight; a real punch-up, with the Roman left flank almost totally collapsing even after their legionaries had inflicted horrendous losses on the Parthian horse. And yes, the Caltrop rules worked fine, as the Parthians found to their cost. Forced to try and drive away the Light Foot in front of the Roman main line, time and again they suffered from the pesky little devices while the skirmishers and bowmen dodged back. Again, the caltrops were not a battle-winner, but they had enough of an effect to force the opposing side to re-think their tactics.

The result was that the Cavalry-heavy Parthian army became sluggish, and suffered high attrition while trying to get into contact with the main Roman Legions. Once they did, the Legions started to suffer against the strong and tough Heavy Cataphract Cavalry. The fight went right down to the wire, but in the end the Parthians lost by 8 banners to 6, as their Heavy Cataphract Cavalry got bogged down in a slow-moving, grinding match with the Legion Infantry.

The end came with a swift Roman counter-attack, which caught a distracted and weakened Camel Cataphract unit and wiped it out.

Now I understand how the new rules work in practice, I shall give my regular(-ish) gaming opponent a ring, and see if he has the time to get a game in over the New Year holiday.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas Everyone!!

Happy Christmas Everyone!!

Have a Great New Year.


Saturday, 19 December 2009

More Battle!

I have been rather productive this last month, considering all the other stuff that needs doing around the house in the run-up to Christmas.

The first batch of Vulgarian Infantry is now complete and varnished. Three Vulgarian AFV's and a truck have been completed, as has a Moldovian light tank, and two more Moldovian AFV's, a Panther and a BA-6 armoured car, are on the painting table as we speak.

However, in a day or so the painting table has to be tucked away as the Festive Season approaches. We have a guest coming to stay, a good friend, and she will use this room. I doubt it will be back out for a couple of weeks afterwards, as trips away will limit my free time.

And who knows? After the holiday I might fancy a break from "moderns", and crack on with my old Spencer Smith ACW project, which needs a couple more units finishing off, and some more artillery purchasing for the Rebs.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Battle! On.

Having completed almost half of the Vulgarian Infantry and all but one of the original batch of Vulgarian AFV's, I have started to work on the paint schemes for the Moldovian forces now.

The Russian Green/Catachan Green idea did turn out to be a bit bland, especially on the cute litle Pegasus tanks. I finished the base coats on a Panther and Jaguar, but to be honest I wanted something with a bit more pizazz to it. I had no desire to copy the historical German three-colour scheme, so I cast my mind back further and decided to try something along the lines of an old WW1 tank "splinter camouflage" scheme that I recall seeing a while back, with three colours and thick black outlines around the colour demarcation points. I used GW paints for the scheme; Chaos Black, Catachan Green, Vermin Brown and Bubonic Brown (very close to dark yellow).

I gave it a go on the Pegasus Jaguar and although it is not yet finished, I like the effect. It sort of gives the impression of a "not quite up-to-date" army, and has also opened my mind to the possibility of using the HaT 1/72 WW2 Polish Infantry as the troops for this nation, rather than the Italeri US Infantry I had previously envisaged.

In the background can be seen the first Vulgarian Opel Truck getting its base coat. This is the old Airfx kit. It's handy for the project as it comes with a 75mm AT Gun and crew, but it has drawbacks as a wargames model.

It is, to be honest, a little too fragile for the wargames table. I deliberately left out lots of the smaller parts, such as the cab interior, drive shafts, front mudguard width indicators and driver's door mirrors, in an attempt to make it less vulnerable. But even so, the thinness of some parts has already caused breakages at the painting stage.

Now I am by no means ham-fisted, but I managed to weaken and then break off both front wheels simply by holding the model very gently by them, while applying a base coat. The spindles on the axle are so thin (less than 0.5mm thick) that they barely offer enough strength to hold the weight of the model itself. In the end I cut the axles down, and will have to superglue the wheels directly to the springs in order to get a strong enough joint. This will work; it's not perfect but I'm not worried. I have another one to make up, but I think for the rest of the wheeled transport I shall use the Pegasus quick-build Opel Trucks as far as the Vulgarians are concerned.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Battle! Project Update.

I've been busy finishing off some figures during the few spare hours I have had recently. I did come to a full stop because, after years of Horse & Musket and Fantasy projects, where the figures were finished with gloss varnish, I found I had no matt varnish to hand.

Or I thought I hadn't. Eventually, after digging through some boxes that had been tucked away for years, I found a small bottle of Humbrol matt varnish. Luckily if had not gone yellow or solidified, but it had separated and the top was solid, and required more muscle power to shift than I could manage. Thankfully a jar opener was purloined from the kitchen, and the top eventually yielded to brute force. I spent a couple of minutes stirring the thick gunk at the bottom of the bottle and eventually I got a good consistent thickness of liquid varnish. I tried it out on the underside of a tank to see if it was still OK, before risking it on a painted figure.

But it was fine so the first batch of finished Vulgarian Infantry got a coat of it and it worked well, with no yellowing. However, I tend not to brush varnish onto AFV's, as it always looks dreadful when I try it. But trying to get a matt varnish spray by mail order is damned hard now, as many companies are loth to post them via RM. Aberystwyth lived up to its reputataion for not having anything beyond the mainstream, and so things had to wait until a trip to Hereford yesterday, where I managed to find a can of Humbrol matt varnish in a model shop.

I now need to move onto transport for the two sides, and sadly it looks like the total budget will have to go over the £100 mark in order to procure the numbers of halftracks and trucks needed. Frontline will certainly be getting an order from me, as their prices are a good match for most of the quick-build halftracks out there. But that will be in the new year, I expect.

For now, I shall crack on and finish the AFV's and infantry I have.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Battle! Project Proceeds.

Well, in spite of the pre-Xmas housework, and having to run around taking the little one to various parties, Xmas Fairs and Stage School sessions, I have managed to crack on with this simple and inexpensive project.

I have established a set of rules for the project. In order to keep costs down, almost everything will be 20mm plastics, and as available time is also limited, fast-build kits will be used in most cases. I have also set a financial limit (so as to avoid breaking into the house-keeping money) of a maximum of £4 per vehicle and £6 for a box of figures. With this in mind, my initial outlay so far has been around £50 and I should have both sides done, with a good selection of vehicles, for around £100, at which point I shall cease building and start playing.

The first army is from the rather bombastic central European nation of Vulgaria.

The Italeri Germans' transformation into the Vulgarian hordes is coming along nicely. There are a few wasted poses (I do not like prone figures!) and a little flash on some others (easily trimmed), but most are usable and paint up nicely.

The paint scheme for the Vulgarian military is:
Uniforms: Cote D'Arms Russian Brown.
Webbing: Cote D'Arms Faded Khaki.
Boots: GW Snakebite Leather.
Equipment (helmet, entrenching tool handles, grenades, Panzerschrecks, mortars): Cote D'Arms Grey-Green.
A dark GW Flesh Wash is applied over the uniform, boots and webbing, and then when dry, the figure is dry-brushed with GW Kommando Khaki to highlight.
Guns: GW Chaos Black. (Note to wargamers: modern military weapons are NOT shiny bare metal!)
Rifle Furniture: GW Snakebite Leather and GW Flesh Wash.

Vehicles are all Cote D'Arms Grey-Green.
Once dry, they are then dry-brushed with GW Kommando Khaki, and then areas like the engine deck, gun muzzle brake and exhausts are given a thin wash of a brown/black ink to simulate oil and soot.


Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Odds & Sods.

My first attempt at fictional Horse & Musket armies.

I am always driven by a need to keep costs down to a minimum, so the initial attempt involved some 20mm plastic figures. These are from Italeri, although the figures at the back are, so I seem to recall John Preece informing me, VERY early MiniFigs.

I was intending to use DBN rules for this project, hence the basing. But in the end I just fell in love with Holger Ericsson figures, and nothing else would do...

I very rarely buy figures just for the sake of painting them, but these next ones I did. Picked up for a song on eBay, there were about 25 in the box, all unpainted castings, of which this is a small sample. Renegade I think, and so wonderful to paint! They now reside in the USA, as a buyer there took them off my hands for a fair sum.

And finally, another aborted project; a Punic Wars Republican Roman Army, for DBM. These are the Psiloi for that army. I did a few Blade units too, but ran out of enthusiasm. Figures are HaT. Not a great paint job, but I never really go overboard on plastics, even though I do love them....

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Battle! Project.

Today I started my 20mm Battle! project.

Inspired by Charles Grant's wonderful little book on WW2-era wargaming, I have long desired to create a couple of fictional armies for that era.

Now the history and politics of the actual conflict itself are of little interest to me, and I have always had a hearty dislike of the "wall-to-wall Tiger tank" German armies one so often sees out there, and the all-too-common sets of WW2 rules that cater for them.

However, I do have an interest in the tactical problems posed by mechanised warfare, and a soft spot for many of the vehicles in use at the time. Some of them look really cute.

In order to cater for my interests, and do away with the bias so often inherent in "historical" games of WW2, I have basically come up with two fictious sides; Green and Brown. Both sides will field a happy mixture of whatever tanks, vehicles and weapons I feel like issuing them with.

The figures to be used have been selected purely on the grounds that the sets contain the requisite poses for the units I wish to create, and are available locally and cheaply.

In this case the troops will be Italeri's WW2 German Infantry (re-issue of the old ESCI set) and German Elite Infantry (the new-ish release), and their US Infantry (another re-issue of the old ESCI set). A couple of boxes of each will allow me to complete a battalion of Infantry and their support, using Charles Grant's OOB guidelines. The "German" figures will have brown uniforms, and the "US" figures green.

Support weapons such as Anti-Tank guns will also be provided by Italeri and Airfix. Armoured cars will be by Pegasus (the BA-6), Airfix and Revell (the old Matchbox Puma). Transport will be the new quick-build M3 halftracks, and perhaps later the 251 when it finally becomes available from HaT, plus Opel and GM trucks trucks from Pegasus.

Tanks will be whatever I fancy, really. Neither side will have unbeatable tanks, and Tigers, Panthers, Shermans, Mk IIIs, BT-7s, T34s and Stalins will be available to both sides. I'm using the various quick-build and E-Z build series out there from the likes of HaT, Italeri and Pegasus, and will include the latter's tidy little "what-if" models, too. I even intend to have a brace or so of the old FT-17's from HaT.

In fact today I slung together a couple of the Pegasus late-WW2 "what-if" tanks. They took me about 15 minutes per tank. The main parts such as the hull and turret went together so well they did not even need glue, and the finished kits are pretty little things, that have already set my imagination awhirl with the prospect of designing paint schemes for them.

I have no intention of creating a game that allows wall-to-wall tanks. They will be issued as support, and almost certainly be limited to three or four on a side, in any one battle.

Friday, 27 November 2009

I Used To Dabble......

In 28mm WWII stuff. By "dabble", I mean I toyed with the idea of using this size of figure to wargame the period, to the extent that I bought a fair few figures and painted them up.

I had no real idea of where this was going to go, and that is usually a bad sign for me. It tends to mean my little heart is NOT really into something, and this was no exception.

A number of things eventually put me off, but the main one was the near total lack of any support vehicles in the correct scale, and the price of the few that did exist. I was also put off by the huge size of table required if anything other than "Warhammer 40K"-style skirmish games were to be played.

Even so, I spent a fair amount of cash and time painting up various units from the period. But eventually I tired of it and sold them on, leaving only a few photos to remind me.

Monday, 23 November 2009

Here's Some I Did Earlier.

I was going through my old photo folders and clearing out a lot of duplicated shots, and found some nice pictures I had forgotten I had taken.

These figures are now sadly sold on. Wish I had kept them. Isn't that often the way?

40K Nurgle Plague Marines squad. Converted OOP Space Wolves figure in centre. Fun to add and paint all the pustules and running, open sores... and that's just on the Rhino APC... !

And a converted OOP metal Space Marines Dreadnought, again infested by Nurgle.

And Block Busting against Black Templar Space Marines.

Taking A Rest

This last few days have seen me take a rest from pouring molten white metal into rubber moulds. One needs to back off now and again or else the smell starts to permeate the house. Not too sure it does my lungs much good either.

But really all I have left to do now is the rank and file, and I already have around 80 of those done. The rest can wait, perhaps until after Christmas and the New Year.

In the meantime I have been enjoying watching our little one learn to tie her own shoelaces, a task which has resulted in many tears and angry tantrums on her part.

I've also been reading Charles Grant's The Battle of Fontenoy, which as Jean-Louis pointed out in a comment earlier, is the natural follow-up to The War Game. Let down only by a lack of photos, it is nevertheless an excellent book and great fun to read.

Other than the normal household routine, and getting soaked taking the little one to her Stage School on Saturday, I have been cleaning and undercoating a few 30mm Spencer Smith and SAE metal figures, and basing some of the plastic Spencer Smith Rebels that John Preece kindly swapped me a few weeks ago. I have managed to mislay my usual green basing paint somewhere, so they remain unfinished.

Thursday, 19 November 2009


Another few hours free today, between the housework and getting the child to and from school... So naturally I broke out the casting tools and metal and had another bash.

After the success with the cavalry command the other day, mostly due to the new heavy duty elastic bands, I thought it might be worthwhile to have one last crack at the Artillery crews. I am glad I did because I was able to save myself a lot of money. I had given up and was going to purchase four guns and crews from Irregular Miniatures, who do a nice range of 42mm Marlburians that seem to go quite well with these PA Home-casts. But at £7.50 a shot, that was going to be expensive and was a last resort. I already had eight PA guns cast up. It was only the problems with several of the crew moulds that looked like forcing me along the purchasing route.

But today my sense of optimism was borne out, and I managed to get a very high success rate from all the moulds. I did reduce the crew size a little, from six to five, to leave out the most problematic figure. I also decided that four guns was perhaps too many for the force sizes likely to be on the table, so dropped the total guns to three per side.

I have also decided to drop the total number of Cavalry squadrons from three to two per side, and am toying with the idea of dropping the Infantry regiments from four to three. Grenadier regiments will stay at two and I shall increase the Light Infantry contingent by one regiment, for a total of two per side.

I have certainly decided to drop the Foot regiment size from 25 to 21, including the Colonel.

Overall the changes won't really make much difference to the number of castings I have to produce.

And finally, I managed to find an interesting little gem on eBay the other week; The Battle of Fontenoy, by Charles Grant. It was one of a series of books written to provide background on battles for wargamers and modellors. It dates from around 1975, and I look forward to starting it tonight in bed, with a cup of hot chocolate by my side.

Monday, 16 November 2009

By Popular Demand

These castings represent almost all the command figures for both armies. There are another ten foot command figures already fully painted (see past pictures), but the ones here include some part-painted ones now on my work table.

The photo below shows the mounted command figures. The officer pointing with sword will be used mainly for the Cavalry, but I might exchange him, in a couple of squadrons, for the officer type at the bottom; a more sedate pose. That pose will generally be used for the Infantry regiment Colonels. There's a couple of spares of each pose, in case of future breakages.

The Infantry command figures also include an excess of castings, again for possible breakages. I finally managed to get some reasonable castings of the officer advancing with raised sword. Granted I had to clamp the mould loosely, and thus got some flash, but it's easily trimmed away and the figures themselves are now whole. The last time I tried this mould, every figure it produced was sans sword and left hand...!

The four figures at bottom right are Artillery officers. I had actually forgotten I had done these, and will use them as dismounted battery officers, two per army.

Finally, the casting plugs and sprues from the command figures were dumped back in the ladle and used to cast more rank and file.

By the way, all the moulds for the above figures, plus one for an advancing Grenadier and the three Artillery crew moulds, are now listed up on ebay. So if anyone is interested, email me and I'll send you a link...

Casting Couch

I am now resting.... My lungs feel a little odd, as does my head. This AM I spent over three hours having a serious casting blitz, in order to get all of the command figures (along with a couple of spares) for both armies sorted.

And I did it.

It was perhaps the best day's work I've done so far on this project. I cast around 70 figures, 50 of them mounted, and had a success rate of over 90%. Even the tricky Standard Bearers worked fine. The trick was a couple of new heavy duty elastic bands, which the cavalry moulds seemed to respond to. With the bottom of the mould clamped, and the elastic band holding the top firmly but not TOO tight, the resulting castings proved fine. A little flash, granted, but all of them filled perfectly time after time. The only castings to go back in the pot were one where I knocked over the mould before it had set, and two more where the ridges were a shade too prominent.

So really, that is all the hard work done. I now have all the command figures cast for ALL units save the Artillery, which I will be sourcing from the fast and friendly Irregular Miniatures at a later date. so no more mucking around consulting notes for each mould's casting idiosyncracies. The rank and file consist of just two moulds, Foot and Grenadier, both Marching with Shouldered Arms. Now it becomes a simple production line. Boring but quick....

I didn't bother with photos this time. Once you've seen one casting, ...etc etc...

Sunday, 15 November 2009

Commands & Colors: Ancients.

A trip to London last week gave me the opportunuity to try and get the latest expansion set for the excellent Commands & Colors Ancients, published by GMT Games.

The series is designed by the rather talented Mr. Richard Borg, and is certainly the most elegant, playable Ancients system I have yet found. On a similar scale to DBA and DBM, it is easier to understand than either, and also has more tactical and historical detail as well as a more challenging and, in my opinion, realistic command system. It gives a fast exciting game that has enough history to satisfy me. Great fun.

This latest box is Expansion 4: Imperial Rome, and contains units to make up the later Imperial Roman Army, plus additional Eastern Empires and Barbarian units to allow players to create many of the latter's foes, such as the Parthians.

Also included are new rules for Cataphract Cavalry and Camels, and the use of Caltrops by designated light foot units, plus some new terrain cards and their rules, and a nice pair of wooden command card holders.

So the heavy box contains 293 wooden blocks, several sheets of stickers for those blocks, a set of new rules and scenarios, 15 new terrain tiles and two wooden card holders. It's around £45 over here, which is not too bad.

I am looking forward to giving John Preece a ring and setting up a couple of quick games over a glass of wine..

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Casting The Cavalry.

And some mounted officers, of course.

The Standard Bearers are usually some of the hardest figures to cast from the PA moulds, so I regard myself well ahead of the game if I can get more than 40% of them through my QA rules in a single casting session.

The other issue with all the mounted figures is that with some it's often hard to keep the two halves of the larger moulds totally aligned, and so it's not uncommon for a small ridge around the odd figure, which I can usually live with. It's often quicker to file it away than try for a better casting. If it's really bad, then it'll go back in the pot.

These are from the PA moulds, with casting plugs clipped off, but not yet cleaned up. Again, they retain the classic Holger Ericsson look.

Here, the officer pointing with sword (below) ended back in the scrap pile. One doesn't have to look too hard to see the prominent ridges, especially on the arm and sword. The front legs of the horse were very bad too. At first glance I thought it would be OK, but as I was setting it up for shots, I eventually decided it was outside of my QA rules.

With the Standard Bearer I usually have to let a little flash creep in (loose clamps) in order to get the whole thing filled. It also has a strong tendency for the mould halves to slide during clamping, and the failure rate for this mould is very high, often reaching 70% on a bad day.

Friday, 6 November 2009

More Spencer Smiths.

I managed to pick up some more Spencer Smith ACW figures yesterday when a good friend of mine, the erstwhile and erudite Mr. John Preece, star of Tywyn's legendary Red Light distict, swopped me some of his old 30mm plastic ACW figures (painted) in return for some of my 30mm plastic ACW figures (unpainted), and a few odds and sods of old SAE metals which he wanted to use in a skirmish unit.

Overall it was a great deal, as the figures are painted to John's usual high standard. While I am content to stick to the fundamentals on these old-fashioned and basic figures, Johh will go that extra mile and add the detail I don't have the patience for. So they look very pretty indeed, and photos will soon be forthcoming. Actually many will have already seen them, as I believe these ones appear in CS Grant's new book The War Game Companion, being used in the images gracing the ACW sections therein.

In the meantime, I am at the mercy of the post. I am still waitng for a number of eBay items to drop or be rammed through my letter box by the Royal Mail. I do intend to knock out a couple of fictional "WWII-style" armies, and with this aim in mind, had last week ordered a couple of boxes of the quick-build tank kits by Italeri. Alas, they have still not come....

Nor has the re-published copy of Charge! I purchased. I did have the original, a first edition, which I cherished dearly but, knowing that a new paberback of it had been released, I felt able to sell that copy (for a tidy sum, too) in the knowledge that I would soon replace it, in facsimile at least.

When these items arrive, it will be like Xmas.

In fact, given the Royal Mail's sad performance, it will be at Xmas....

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Iconic Holger Ericsson Poses.

Although I do have a couple of other poses for Foot and Grenadiers, these two types will make up around 90% of the Infantry.

These castings are not yet cleaned up, but one can get a good idea of the sparsity of detail on them...

The Joys & Pitfalls Of Home Casting.

Finally I managed to clear the decks enough to crack on with some casting.

Now home-casting with Prince August moulds is not that hard, but it's dangerous if one is stupid, and on top of that one really has to understand the different moulds and what works best for each, if one doesn't want to waste a lot of time.

Some moulds want to be clamped tight. Others want a looser clamp, possibly with a stout elastic band or two around the boards. Some moulds want the clamps to be placed just so. With others you need to allow a bit of flash to creep in, if you want it to fill properly. Some others might need venting, and I use a Dremel with a very tiny bit, to make a hole through the hot mould at the end of the extremity that is refusing to fill.

I actually have fairly extensive notes concerning each of the moulds and how they like to be clamped. If I didn't, I would never remember the details and it would be a matter of trial and error until I could get it right again, which is not ideal.

Even so, there're some sessions when moulds which have worked fine suddenly refuse to play and leave a foot or a leg or a head or a rifle missing. Sometimes I get a 100% failure rate on a mould, days after knocking out a 24 strong unit from it with no hitches at all. Hard to know what causes it. Mainly I think it's the metal; it's not the purest quality.

This is what happened today with one of the Officer Advancing, "round" moulds. I got two useable castings, and another 12 that went back into the pot. That's far too high so I gave up on that one. My guess is a vent has got blocked, but without the drill (now packed) I had to leave it.

The Artillery crews also presented their usual headaches. Now, in spite of ventng and experimenting with different combinations of clamp positions, these crewmen figures have always been a major pain for me, with a far too high fail rate. These moulds are the later ones, the "rounds" made to replace Holger Ericsson's ageing original wood-carved master moulds.

Odd that PA warns people that the new "rounds" are easier to cast than the early original semi-flat moulds, which they claim need a lot of work to cast a good figure. My experience, after casting a fair few figures from both new and early moulds, is that the opposite is true. The newer figures require more venting, are more sensitive to clamping issues, produce a MUCH higher rate of duds, and the castings need more cleaning up, than the early semi-flat ones.

It's for this reason that most of my moulds are now the early semi-flats.

But the Artillery, being problematic, needs a decision. I can stuggle through and spend the rest of my lfe casting them up, or I can give up on using the moulds for the artillery, and just fork out for some Irregular Miniatures 42mm Malburian Guns with crews. Much less work, and they are nice figures and won't stand out too much from the rest of the army. As I have also decided to use Irregular's 42mm figures for the Generals on both sides, I feel happy with this idea.

Today I concentrated on command figures. This makes sense, as I know how many I need (and a few for spares), and as I have no intention of building the armies further after reaching the OOB already outlined, I can sell on the moulds once I have finished.

I also knocked out a unit of Light Infantry (still minus a bugler), and did a few test castings of the Grenadier, Marching, Shouldered Arms. Not bad. Only one dud went back into the pot. One figure came out with the bayonet missing, but that's inside my Back-In-The-Pot guidelines, which basically states that only major faults will be re-cast, and a missing bayonet does not come under that heading. Missing head, yes, missing foot, indeed... but the odd short scabbard, sword or bayonet are fine.

So not a bad couple of hours work. A failure rate of around 20% was acceptable....

Monday, 2 November 2009

Best Laid Plans

I fully intended to bash out a few dozen home-cast figures today but, as so often happens, the plans went a little awry. And in the end I got nothing done at all, save a few more bits of junk removed from the loft. That diverted my mind, as I now have to think long and hard about which bits of terrain I shall take with me when I move, and which I shall sell on. Do I need two dozen large TSS terrain boards?

And my twice weekly browse of various sites has now put a lot of temptation my way, too. 28mm hard plastic figures were sure to be a wonderful invention, or so I hoped. In the run-up to the first few releases, I anticipated being enamoured of the Perry ACW, but felt sadly let down when I saw them; far too many fiddly little bits, many of them moulded separately for no good reason at all. Too much like hard work.

Their Napoleonics, and the Victrix ones, also seem to feature lots of little parts. For me, the MAIN virtue of hard plastic figure should be that they wouldn't require a lot of preparation work. I had high hopes that the Perry and Victrix Naps might provide a good excuse for me to use them for my fictitious armies, and enable me to leave out all the extra effort involved in home-casting.

But after looking at what was on offer, I turned my back on 28mm hard plastics, and resigned myself to the stench of hot lead.

Until today, when I saw the HaT 28mm hard plastic Napoleonics figures.

Now these are more like it. They are simple moulds, in good poses, and with at most a couple of extra pieces (ie, backpacks) which one can glue on or not, as the fancy takes one. THESE are what I had hoped for when 28mm hard plastics were first announced.

Much depends on cost, of course, but it seems around £12 a box is on the cards. And at a later date they also intend to do Seven Years War stuff, with masters for Prussian Artillery already pictured on their site.

I am also intrigued by the way they have marketed them, with separate boxes for Marching, Action and Command poses. I am one of those old-fashioned people who HATE action poses in Horse and Musket games, and so this means that I don't have to waste around 30% of the figures in every box I buy.

Clever HaT..!!

So what to do?

Sunday, 1 November 2009

My Lack Of American Civil War Rules.

Last night I was going through the old bookshelves up in the loft, trying to sort out other stuff to sell on eBay to raise some much needed funds, when I came across a couple of old books on the ACW.

Now, I game the ACW.

Or to be honest, I more sort of don't.

I have a reasonable library on the history of the conflict, and have been studying it for many years. That interest has lasted from my childhood, and the first set of Airfix Union Infantry I was given as a present for being good when my mum was having my third sister. Oh, and down to the old Civil War bubblegum card sets, complete with bar of red bubblegum, gratuitously bloody picture cards of the war, and Confederate Dollars.

So a long history, there.

And given that, one would expect me to be a fanatic when it came to wargame rule sets on the period. And yet I game the ACW using old, slightly modified 1962 Featherstone rules. Yes, I know there're tons of other rules out there, loads of them really good, and I've bought a few and played them and... gone back to the Featherstone rules.


Because I like them. I know they're not "realistic" or particularly "historical", but I play my wargames for fun and those rules are really all I want. Every other set of ACW rules I've bought, I've sold on shortly afterwards. No offence to their writers, but they are not for me.

So these two books came to light in my search. Both are old, and both contain ACW rules. The Stevenson one is the more modern work, dating from around the early 'nineties. The rules (or rather some rules) are in there, although not really organised or formally presented as a set of rules. It's worth keeping because.. er... well. is it worth keeping? It doesn't get referred to, has little in the way of interest now. But for old times sake I shall retain it. It's not as if it takes up much room.

The other set is the old Airfix Magazine Guide no 24. American Civil War Wargaming, by Terence Wise. It is dated 1977.

Now there is NO WAY I will let go of this puppy. I had a copy long ago, and made the mistake of selling it. Two weeks later I regretted that move, and carried on regretting it for five years, until I finally found another copy.

This book also has a set of ACW rules inside, actually presented as rules and not just as a few ideas to kick around, as in Stevenson's book. Even so, Terence Wise was humble enough to suggest that his rules were not definitive, which was rather rare for rule writers at that time!

I especially love the old photos in the book. Airfix ACW plastic figures, train set trees, Airfix Trackside houses, used regardless of their total incongruity to either period or nation. Marvellous!

The rules are, sadly, not. One might expect, given the background of this series of books, that any rules presented would be simple. Not so. By the second half of the 'seventies, wargame rules were getting rather carried away, with layer after layer of complexity, in an attempt to find that elusive Holy Grail of "realism". And Terence Wise's rules follow that trend. OK, they're not the worst, but even so they are still hard work.

Tracking individual casualites for each unit, until one finally reached whatever number was needed to remove a "man" from that unit... Yuck!.. It was all the rage then, but it's a pain in the butt now.

Loads of rules for various weapons, many with tiny differences between them, offered in the mistaken hope that, somewhere in all those tiny details, one would find realism.

Oh, and lots of smoke. Now fair enough, the smoke of battle DID play a part in many clashes, but even now most rules writers can't be bothered with it, and these rules will show a reader why. Clouds of cotton wool scattered around and in front of every unit that fires, visibility blocked, movement through smoke made erratic, it's final direction governed by the roll of a die.

Realistic? Yes, maybe...
Fun? No.

Now my comments are not meant as a pop at Terence Wise. That was just the way most wargame rules were going back then. If my memory serves me well, compared to the Newbury set from the same era, these Airfix ones are simplicity itself.

Saturday, 31 October 2009

Numbers. More Lace Wars.

I've got all my ducks in a row for my next casting session, which will be Monday. It's really important to work out all the unit sizes, and the poses required, before one tackles the job of pouring the metal. I intend to cast a few more of each pose than I shall actually paint and use, but it really helps to know how many are needed, so as to avoid the temptation of getting carried away on a favourite pose. I do speak from experience here...

I have to cast and paint both sides of this fictitious conflict, so any idea of large units and lots of them, isn't really on the cards. First of all I have to set a limit to the number of units I shall have, and of what type. If this is not done, I shall likely be overwhlemed as the task runs away from me.

So, two armies.

The Mounted General figure will be for high ranking officers only; Brigade officers and the Army Generals. I intend to have one Army General for each side, and three Brigade officers, two for the Infantry and one for the Cavalry. So a minimum of eight casts then. Not a lot of use from that mould really, so lucky that I got it cheap during one of Prince August's periodic "give away prices" sales.

Each Army's Foot contingent will consist of 4 x Infantry regiments, 2 x Grenadier regiments, and 2 x Light Infantry battalions.

Each Infantry regiment will consist of 24 figures, including an Officer, Standard Bearer and Drummer. Added to that total will be a mounted (or dismounted, depending on how democratic he feels) Colonel. That's a total of 100 figures, 4 of them mounted, per Army.

Then there're the Grenadiers, which will have the same organisation; they will need 50 castings, 2 of which will be mounted.

The Light Infantry battalions will consist of 12 figures each, but not include a Standard Bearer or the Mounted Colonel. I need to get a Bugler mould for these, so I'll be browsing eBay for one, and only forking out PA prices if I am unlucky there. So 24 figures per Army.

The Cavalry has to be downsized, I now feel. Initially I had intended to use 16 castings per squadron, but frankly the figures are large and a unit of 16 has quite a big footprint on the table top. Too big, really. So I've dropped their Order of Battle to 12, including all command. Each Army was to have 2 squadrons of Heavy Cavalry and 1 of Light Cavalry (Dragoons), each with the same contingent of 12 castings. 36 castings per Army. Again, I need to get another mould for the Dragoon; I'm thinking the Mounted Cavalryman, Raised Carbine, here.

The Artillery are next. Here I am not going to bother with limbers and horses. Again, with 40mm figures I feel the unit footprint on the table top is just too large. So two guns and 12 crew per battery, plus a battery commander (on foot). I'd originally gone for 1 gun per battery, but feel that would make them too flexible and powerful. Two batteries (4 guns) per Army seems about right for the overall force sizes. So aside from the guns, that's 26 figures per Army.

So the total number of figures to be cast is 8 guns, (already done), 8 Mounted Generals, 72 Cavalry, 200 Foot. 100 Grenadiers, 48 Light Infantry and 52 Artillery Gunners. That's if my maths is OK.

As regards uniforms, I am playing this by ear. I have some ideas, and basically my usual approach is to clean up a couple of castings and paint them up as a uniform colour template, as it were. When I am happy with that unit's colour scheme, I clean the rest of the castings for the unit and then finish it off.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

40mm Home Cast Fictional Lace Wars

I've toyed with the idea of abandoning this time-consuming project and selling these moulds off a few times now, but finally made the decision to carry on. The argument winner here was that not long ago, I managed to find two great moulds; the Marching Foot Shouldered Arms, and the Marching Grenadier Shouldered Arms.

These are two iconical Holger Ericsson poses, made famous in their 30mm Spencer Smith manifestations in both Brig. Young's Charge and Charles Grant's The War Game.

I also dug up some old style HE Cavalry Command moulds; the Trumpeter and Standard Bearer, as well as a generic Mounted Officer Pointing with Sword.

Thus armed with my new enthusiasm, I went on a casting spree and knocked out most of this little lot in a couple of days last month. It's still a very cheap project. I have around a hundred weight of white metal, which was boosted by our gardener finding around 20 lbs of roofing lead in one of our flower beds out front.

The figures at the front are the Marching Foot, Shouldered Arms. I've not cast any of the Marching Grenadiers as yet, but don't anticipate any problems, as the mould is unused.

I had originally settled on units of 20 (including Drummer, Standard Bearer and NCO), plus the Colonel. However, those small battalions seem to lack presence on the tabletiop, even for 40mm figures. So now I've settled on units of 24, including Standard Bearer, Drummer and NCO, and a Colonel, 25 in total.

I've decided on squadron sizes of 16, including all command, for the Cavalry. That's really a compromise as they are large figures and take up a lot of room on the table. Artillery will be a gun and six figures per battery.

There & Back Again.

Well, after a gap of many months, and one momentous life-changing decision, the Poacher has returned, albeit in another form.

This blog represents a move away from the topic featured in my previous one, and will concentrate instead on a wonderful pastime that has remained my principal hobby for as long as I can recall: Wargaming.

I wargame with miniatures and boardgames, although circumstances have now seen a drastic reduction in the eras gamed, and armies used. I have also largely moved away from the historical side, now only gaming ACW and Ancients as historical periods.

The rest of my gaming is now centered around totally fictitious clashes in various eras, 18th century Lace Wars, 17th Centry Musket & Pike, Modern Jungle Warfare and a rather fun World War II era game, based on Charles Grant's Battle, where I happily mix various nations' equipment in my two armies, based simply on the notion of whether I like the look of it.

It is a wonderfully liberating experience, freeing oneself from the strait-jacket of a historical perspective. Gone are all the arguments, internal and external, about who were the good guys and bad guys. Gone are the arguments about the correct colour to paint the tanks and uniforms (in my WW2-era game, one side are Green, the other Brown). Gone are all the worries about the correct OOB for the armies. I make up my own, so I decide if they are correct.

Even with the historical periods that I do play, ACW and Ancients, I use highly stylised and, in the case of ACW, very old-fashioned rules. Purists may well shudder. For Ancients I use Command & Colors: Ancients, the wooden block boardgame designed by Richard Borg, which is fun, fast and furious, and probably not too bad from a historical perspective, if that's important.

My ACW gaming is based around a slightly modified set of Featherstone rules dating from the early 'sixties. Anyone familiar with Games Workshop Fantasy Battles will have no problem with them at all. The figures for the ACW games are old Spencer Smith 30mm plastics, or the newer metal versions, painted in an old-fashioned glossy toy soldier style. These armies are due for serious expansion soon, especially as John Preece (of Flanderkin Serjeant fame), a good gaming friend, passed me a load of wonderful SAE metal figures which have not been available in the range for around 30-40 years.