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.