Sunday 30 June 2013

DBA - Coming To A Blog Near You...

1. A Long-Expected Email
Today the very lovely Neil Parsons of Mount and Blade sent me an email announcing my DBA armies were ready. He included photos so I could confirm I was happy with his efforts (which I was). Now I only have to wait a few days for delivery, but here's what I'm getting:

Early Imperial Romans (II/56 from the army lists). I'm particularly loving those blue auxiliaries.
The figures in the background on a temporary card base are to man my camp (see below).

Ancient British (II/53 from the lists). A general in a chariot - what more do you want?

Total cost for both armies, including 15mm figures from Essex Miniatures, painting, basing and all postage, £127.26. Which is a pretty good deal as far as I'm concerned. Neil charges 52p to paint a foot figure, and 92p to paint a cavalry figure. I think the photos speak for themselves - the standard is excellent and I hope to be using Mount and Blade again.

2. Camping It Up
Deciding I should do at least some work towards my new period, I have put together the required 2 camps. For the Romans a good old marching camp seemed to be the best bet. Now of course, a bit of Polyfilla and some cocktail sticks can produce you one for practically no cost if you want to spend the time. Predictably, I quickly started looking for commercially produced models. My favourite was a nice little product from Long Range Logisics. This was inexpensive and had the right proportions - 100mm x 60mm is my favoured size as it allows a Light Horse element to be easily accommodated. Unfortunately the purchase process informed me the item was a Special Order and wasn't currently available. Two emails to LRL produced no reply. Sale lost. LRL derive their name from being located in Thailand. Delivery times can be lengthy by current standards, but they have an interesting range of products. I hope you have more luck with them than I did if you deal with them.

Turning to the obvious alternative of Baueda, I quickly found their own Roman Marching Camp, which was unfortunately 40mm x 120mm, but looked fine. To cut a long story short it was purchased, assembled and painted, with the result shown below:

The log barrier is left loose to give more flexibility should the camp come under attack - its removal allows a Light Horse element to occupy the camp snugly. The model is about twice the cost of the LRL one, and comes as a kit of 9 parts. A good bit of sanding and filing is required to get a reasonable fit of parts, which I feel should not really be needed with state of the art production techniques. Nevertheless I am quite satisfied with the result.

Baueda had the right models for my Ancient British camp as well. I purchased a Thatched Straw Hut along with a Camp Cooking set. The hut might be a bit late in period, and I had to scratch off the medieval shield resting against its side, but the result is again pleasing enough. In this case the models were cast to a very good standard. I based the assembled bits and pieces on a 100mm x 60mm rectangle of mounting board.

The group of sacks and pots in the foreground are loose.
Removing them creates a space for occupying elements, enemy or friendly.

So now I await the arrival of the figures through the post, following which gaming will commence. I'll be sure to keep you informed.

Saturday 8 June 2013

In Praise Of Wargames Magazines

I'm sure I'm not the only wargamer who has wondered whether wargames magazines are still relevant in the age of the internet. We can all keep our fingers on the pulse of the hobby quite happily by using our computers, tablets and phones. I was always surprised that the hobby could support 4 commercial magazines, and even though that number is now 3 I still find it fairly remarkable to see them in W H Smith's, jostling for attention amongst Classic Tractors and Woodworking Monthly.

Wargames Illustrated is easy to resist: its glossy corporate world feels alien to me. Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy and Miniature Wargames are much more homely. I picked up the latest copy of each of these recently (WSS 66, MW 362), and was quickly reminded how relevant and useful magazines can be. They remain the main source of considered and extended writing on our hobby, conveying ideas from some of the sharpest wargames minds around. Their photos and graphics (especially the maps) are consistently excellent. Even the articles I don't really like tell me something about my own prejudices, and can sometimes surprise me with an interesting map or tip. 

As for the internet, there are far too many trivial posts and comments out there that contribute very little to our hobby, and which fail to communicate very much in terms of ideas or inspiration. Indeed, some forum posters seem to have quite a lot of trouble spelling words properly and grasping the basics of punctuation, let alone having anything worth saying. Far too many blogs make do with battle reports featuring no maps or scenario outlines, thus giving no idea of what's going on, and support this thin fare with a series of badly lit and/or out of focus photos.

There are, of course, many notable exceptions to this sad trend: blogs which are worth revisiting time and again, and wonderful information sites like Kronoskaf SYW or the PIBWL Military Site (that deals with the Polish forces of 1939). And then there are the sites of the various manufacturers and sellers, which of course are always worth trawling. Nevertheless, it seems to me that a lot of wargamers dabbling on the net (me included) are going to have to raise their game before the magazines feel the threat. 

So let's see what the latest WSS and MW got me thinking about.

Wargames, Soldiers and Strategy 66
For me, it's a problem that 2 out of 3 of the wargames magazines use 'themed' issues. As soon as I see that the theme is of no particular interest to me, I'm reluctant to buy the issue. WSS 66 had Gettysburg as its theme. I nearly walked away, but then, reflecting that the ACW at least counted as horse and musket, I flipped through the content. Hmm... some interesting looking battle maps linked to a series of Gettysburg refights. And a couple of interesting looking comment columns. I'm glad I took the plunge and bought a copy.

Regular readers of this blog will know I'm always after scenario ideas, and the Gettysburg articles were an excellent source. Check out these 2 maps for example:

Reproduced with the kind permission of WSS magazine. Copyright remains with the magazine.

Reproduced with the kind permission of WSS magazine. Copyright remains with the magazine.

I have long held that real battles confirm the idea that lining up opposing forces on opposite sides of the table and just plunging forward is not only unimaginative but doesn't represent most actual battles. Here are 2 cases in point. The upper map shows a situation where one half of the blue army is deployed forward defending a wood and river line, whilst the other half is well to its rear on the table baseline, half overlapped by the forward troops. The grey attackers must cross the stream/river to get at the defenders. This is an interesting set up: I am thinking a square 6' x 6' table would emphasise the distance between the 2 halves of the defending force and make the deployment even more interesting. The lower map has the interest of the 2 opposing lines not being parallel. Indeed the angle between them is about 60˚, which will straight away make for a stimulating engagement involving some thinking by both sides and some absorbing manoeuvres. The waterways interrupting the Confederate battle line also add interest, as does the gap on the left of the Union line where the isolated Pennsylvanian brigade is deployed. Again, a square table might work well here.

As for those comment columns, WSS has managed to get some significant wargaming names to write regular pieces for them - namely Rick Priestley and Richard Clarke. Whilst I enjoyed reading these items, for me they were rather bland and forgettable: in the arena of 'think pieces', Miniature Wargames won hands down, in my opinion. Perhaps being a prominent figure in the hobby inhibits any tendency to be outspoken or controversial: another example of the dead hand of corporate wargaming.

Miniature Wargames 362
My attention in this magazine turned first to the 2 longish articles delving into wargaming concepts. I like a good read that makes me think about the hobby. William Haggart argued convincingly that rules writers need to include solid information about their design decisions and historical sources as part of their rules, and explain and justify why said rules came to be how they are. This would allow users to more accurately judge both the designer's intentions and whatever claims to historical accuracy are made. Such informative designer's notes would indeed be much more useful than the pages of fluff and potted history bloating recent rule sets. Then Tim Beresford argued in another article that excessively detailed painting might well be an enemy of actually getting some battles in, and that we should start with the terrain for our chosen period rather than the figures. He also commented more broadly on the need for proper planning of wargames projects, including a much needed blast against the senseless accumulation of lead mountains.

Both provided good reading, with ideas that stayed with you much more than the articles by the well known personalities in WSS. Unfortunately both the writers in MW took rather longer to make their points than was really necessary. Tim's article in particular was rather meandering and unfocused, a point picked up in this TMP thread. Oxford wargamer Dillon Browne showed the way to good writing in his charming piece on attending Salute 2013.

I was, however, much obliged to Tim for confirming what I have long thought - that dedicated figure painters have much to answer for. The move to anatomically incorrect and over-detailed figures was obviously made to please the painter's need for more detail: hence all those hands like shovels and rifles the size of bazookas, as well as all those bloody buttons that you just can't ignore. The emphasis on painting creates a distraction from the task in hand, which is of course to get some wargaming in.

Now, those who love painting are always writing articles that purport to pass on their 'secret' of producing wonderful figures in record time. Tamsin Piper had such an article in this very magazine. Unfortunately, amongst all the tips and wrinkles, one does not have to read between the lines of such articles very much to discover that the real 'secret' is to spend every waking hour painting figures, often with as much shading and general fiddling about as possible. Let me step into the ring here, then, and give my own painting tips. When a soldier's coat is to be painted 'prussian blue', choose a paint of that shade (like Vallejo 70965, which is helpfully called 'prussian blue') and apply it to the coat. Then move on to the next area. If this is to be painted white, paint it in white paint. Then, move on to the next area to be painted. You get the picture. In other words, when painting, stop f**king around. Or even better, get someone else to paint your figures for you. This is much more affordable if you avoid using crazy figure painters who charge £10 per foot figure for some pointless 'work of art'.

I think that disposes of figure painting enthusiasts. MW 362 also takes the trouble to include specific rules ideas in no less than 5 articles, such as the ECW campaign piece. This is excellent: even when the period is not your thing, rules ideas can be transferable and have a habit of sending one's mind off in useful tangents. To be fair to WSS, this magazine also has significant rules content in one of its articles, not to mention all the scenario specifics in the Gettysburg section.

What Was I Saying..?
Ah yes. My overall point here is that both magazines gave me a number of ideas and directions that are not that easy to find online. I will probably return to them over a number of days and weeks to come, and for me this represents good value.

Unfortunately, the next issue of WSS (67) appears to have 'warfare in feudal Japan' as its theme. Oh bugger...

Saturday 1 June 2013

A New Project (4)

Well, so much for getting my 'Airfield Attack' project finished soon after Christmas. What with a new job, working away from home, breaking my arm and various other stuff, the project has moved from top of the list to near the bottom. What wargaming time I had ended up being devoted to SYW and getting my DBA thing started.

Motivation can be such a fickle feeling. But then, the good thing about our hobby is you don't really have to be focused if you don't want to be. You can flit from project to project as much as you want most of the time, or you can do nothing at all until the enthusiasm returns. In a niche hobby like ours, the only driving force is yourself. Which is a great attraction, as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway, the airfield project has received so little attention lately that the fallschirmjager which I was supposed to be borrowing were going up for sale. So I just had to buy them from Craig (of Tiny Terrain fame). Just had to. You know how it is. As the photo shows, they aren't really painted for 1939 (I think Tunisia 1943 is the painting style) but I'm glad to have them. If I decide I don't need to keep them, they can go on ebay eventually. Many thanks to Craig for making them available at 'mates rates'.

I will be employing a fallschirmjager battalion of 9 infantry bases, 3 mg bases, a mortar base and 2 command units, the latter representing battalion commander and regimental commander: this being for Blitzkrieg Commander, of course. The purchase included plenty more stuff which I don't need to use, but which for the moment is a pleasure to own.

Company size group with mg, mortar and command unit.

Won't be using these of course, but a couple of lovely gun bases for your delectation.
Pak 40 and 7.5cm GebG 36, the latter a mountain gun used by airborne artillery units.

Despite the lack of effort, I'm now very nearly there with this project. I have the final 3 (of 6) Ju-52s half painted. I think I will need 8, but at the moment I'm still hoping to borrow the last 2 (are you there Steve?). If not, buying and making up the extras will not be a big task. Then I can get on with playtesting the scenario and having a proper game or two.

As long as I don't get distracted.