Friday 31 December 2010

A 'New' New Years Resolution

At the start of the year I set out a four part New Years Resolution. Its now time to review my success (or lack of it) and set some new goals for 2011. First off a look at those pesky resolutions from January 2010.

Paint more miniatures than 2009 - I think I succeeded in my aim in that I massively increase the number of 15mm figures painted and ready for action. I now have two viable armies for Flames of War with one project half finished which will kick 2011 off to a nice start. Keeping a tally of completed projects has been a useful incentive to keep me focused and record progress. Its definitely something I will use again this year.

Complete the 3rd story arc for my Campaign Setting - I failed in this objective utterly. I have to admit that I never even so much as picked up the proverbial pen (I write with keyboard only these days). Part of the reason is that I'm still not comfortable with 4E and certainly not confident enough with the rules to run a game. This may change but the fact is I have several ideas for other games nagging at my time and two new rule sets sitting on my shelves making me feel guilty because I haven't used them yet.

Continue building my Blog - Its been an amazing year both in terms of readership and the number of new 'followers'. Even downgrading from daily posting to a four times a week schedule didn't harm the blogs growth. In fact BLMA has now had growth in visitors/hits for 7 out of 8 quarters ending the year with nearly 300% more visitors in 2010 over 2009. There have been a few 'slow' months but the overall trend continues to point up. The same applies when counting followers (the core, dedicated readership that keeps a blog alive) which went from 49 followers at the end of 2009 to its current level of 141 now.

Play More Games - This is another unqualified success. I've gone out of my way to get involved in new games with an even broader range of players. I've started actively wargaming again after years of just painting and talking about it. I have also bought and played several new boardgames and even had a go at a couple of strategy computer games. All in all my hobby activities are definitely more diverse and full bloodied than they were a year ago.

Overall I think its been a successful year and setting a list of resolutions at the start helped keep me focused on what was important. With three out of four objectives met, I consider that a result. Which of course begs the question, what about 2011. I think my resolutions will be 'more of the same' although I still hold out little hope of completing my D&D campaign. However I will make a resolution to run an RPG of some kind in 2011. This may take the form of a two or three game mini adventure, I haven't decided yet. Whatever happened I know it'll be a productive year with lots of Miniature Adventures ahead of me.

Wednesday 29 December 2010

No coal in my stocking

I must have been a good boy this year because I got a lot of nice new toys for Christmas. I also have my Christmas List handy to buy anything that I didn't get.

I got a new Camera Bag and Tripod, both of which are sorely needed. The Tripod in particular as my old one broke a few months ago and I used it primarily for photographing miniatures at home. I don't as a rule take tripods with me to conventions or living history displays, partly because I hate lugging the weight around and partly because a tripod just gets in the way of other people. I much prefer a Mono pod for show photography.
Another much awaited present is the new Kevin Dallimore Master Class book. I like his style of painting and his previous book (and articles on the Foundry website) have lots of useful tips and suggestions. I picked this book up at SELWG back in October for my wife. The lovely woman had given me express instructions to buy something for myself for Christmas, and who was I to argue?!
My daughter bought me a porcelain mixing pallet which is something I've been looking to buy for a while now. I can buy cheap plastic ones for a few pounds but they are horrible to clean, especially when scratched. The porcelain pallet should be a lot easier to wipe clean and wash, saving a lot of time and swearing!

I also received the usual clutch of DVDs but amongst them was a surprise from my in-laws that played to my weakness for Tanks. A 6 DVD set of programmes looking at the Tank Battles of WWII. That's five hours of programming to keep me quiet and keep me happy. 

Now all that remains is for me to mop up and buy some of the items missing from my list. I've already put in an order for a couple of books on Amazon (must get in before the VAT increases on January 4th!) and I'm hunting around the Internet for a bargain or two in the sales. Its a bumper Christmas for me.

Friday 24 December 2010

Merry Christmas Folks

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all my readers a very Happy Christmas and prosperous new year. BLMA will be taking a short break over the Christmas weekend as I expect to be happily busy entertaining and visiting family. The next post will therefore be on Wednesday 29th December. Have a great weekend and I hope Santa brings you all the gaming goodies you wished for!

Big Picture : Christmas Truce

Its Christmas Eve and we are very busy in the Hadley household. We have twelve people over for dinner tomorrow and it will be a very busy but enjoyable day. Needless to say the preparations for the weekends festivities have left little time for gaming, painting or indeed blogging! But I'll be doing my best to rectify this after the presents have been opened and the turkey has been digested.

I was thinking about what to write for today and decided to look at the Post I wrote last year about the Christmas Truce of 1914. This got me thinking about a game I saw at Salute in April. This was a 'fantasy' football version of the 1914 Christmas football match played by the troops in no-mans-land. The game was run by FrothersUnite UK and was loosely based on the Subbuteo rules with the addition of a few extras like artillery barrages, snipers and minefields!

Merry Christmas to all the readers of BLMA and I hope you all get lots of goodies in your stocking!

Wednesday 22 December 2010

Spray Priming in Cold Weather

Paint does strange things at -5°c, at least that's the claim. I need to spray prime some miniatures and I need to do it outside. But the UK is having an unusually cold winter so far, and more snow than we normally experience this side of Christmas. I'm not too bothered by the cold myself - having plenty of blubber to keep me warm - but I wasn't sure if spray priming models in subzero temperatures was a good idea. With no change in the weather, and the cold predicted to last for at least another week, I decided "to hell with it" and lets see what happens when painting in sub zero temperatures. Before you all scream in horror I must add that I did do a little research on this matter by trawling various painting forums for advice and personal experiences.

Acrylic Spray Primers typically use volatile hydrocarbons such as propane, n-butane or isobutene (or a mix of these) as the propellant. These all have the advantage of a very low boiling point meaning they remain in a gaseous state at very low temperatures. In this state they evaporate off quickly, ideal for a paint carrying medium. However the propellant needs to be mixed to ensure a homogeneous mix which is why most cans contain a 'pea' and require a few seconds vigorous shaking before use.

At very low temperatures (-40ºC for Propane or -0.5ºC for butane) the propellant can cease to be a gas and achieving a homogeneous mix becomes very difficult. Low temperatures will also extend drying times and increasing the chances of 'external influences' ruining the finish. Some posters on painting forums suggest warming the spray can in hot water before taking it outside. However I would respectfully suggest that it is not a good idea to heat up a pressurised container filled with flammable gas! Instead keep the can indoors and let it reach room temperature before use. This is more than sufficient for the propellant to work in the way the manufacturer intended.

With the can and its contents at room temperature it is best to keep outside work to a minimum, bringing the miniatures and spray can inside as quickly as possible while the paint dries. If the miniatures get too cold when you bring then inside condensation can form and spoil the still drying primer. Of course this will be more of a problem if you are priming metal as apposed to plastic or resin minis.

So armed with this little bit of knowledge I tested the advice I had found on an old model just to see what the results were like. I normally spray between 8-12 inches from the model but I found that at the further end of that scale the paint applied grainy in texture. I closed the gap a little and the primer (in my case GW Black Spray) went on evenly and smoothly. I rushed the models back inside and the bulk of the drying took place there. It was a little smelly but nothing compared to spraying indoors.

When the primer had dried I found I needed to give them a second coat to catch some areas I had missed. The end result looks as good as normal and I can't see any adverse effects from painting in such low temperatures. The key is to keep exposure to the cold to a minimum and work quickly. However no advice can overcome the strange look you'll get from your partner when you take your little metal men out to play in the snow.

Monday 20 December 2010

Monty: The Lonely Leader

I bought this book a while back but decided to hold off reading it until I had read a good history of the Normandy campaign. As It was I ended up reading several histories each of which had an opinion about Bernard Law Montgomery. The intriguing things was that often these opinions varied considerably and even before I picked this book up I realised that Monty was going to be a complex character.

The book focuses on Operation Overlord and the Normandy Campaign during 1944-45. However there is an interesting opening chapter that sets the scene by giving a synopsis of a full and complex life up to the point when he became Commander of all Land Forces in 1944.

The author was assisted in this challenging endeavour by Montgomery’s son, David, who provided access to many previously unseen documents and correspondence. Alistair Horne and David Montgomery also travelled across the battlefields of 1944-5 and visited all the key locations – principally Monty's TAC HQ’s – that featured in those last momentous months of WWII.

Neither the author nor the son shy away from criticism of Montgomery and they acknowledge from the start that he was a deeply flawed character. Often insensitive and egotistical he was non-the-less a brilliant leader, beloved by his men while simultaneously disliked by many of his fellow generals and superiors. Often vain and petty he had little time for anyone he considered stupid. Indeed he was so focused on the job in hand that he almost completely overlooked the importance of politics and public support to the maintenance of his position. Eisenhower almost sacked Monty on several occasions and it was only wiser heads that alerted Monty to the threat in time to smooth things over.

Erwin Rommel has often been described as Monty’s greatest adversary but this book clearly shows that Monty was his own worst enemy. One of the most often ‘mistakes’ attributed to him is his inability to acknowledge when operations had not gone to plan. Most often quoted are the ‘Phase Lines’ showing objectives over the days following the landings. These were only ever meant to be a guide and ultimately by D+90 all the objectives had been met. So when Monty looked back and says “everything went to plan” he was partly right if stretching the truth. Partly he did this because he believed in never showing weakness of failure in front of his troops, and partly because his vanity would not allow it.

4 May 1945 the German surrender at Lüneburg Heath
Many of the people he sacked or disapproved of went on to hold important and influential positions in SHAEF (Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force). While he followed his doctrine of being at the front he was isolated from the politics of SHAEF back in England. As Monty battered the German Army into ruins in Normandy his enemies dripped poison into the ears of his superiors back home. Not that much poison was needed. His often high handed approach isolated him on a personal level from Eisenhower and even, eventually, from his friend and supporter, Bradley.

Despite this failure on a personal level his strategy for defeating the Germans proved to be the right one. Revisionist historians have played down the success of the Normandy Campaign and played up the character flaws of the man that drove that campaign. More flamboyant generals (like Patton) have tended to dominate the history books but it was Monty’s strategy - of holding the bulk of the German forces in front of the British and Canadians around Caen, and grinding them down until they ceased to be an effective fighting force – that ultimately made the American breakout not only possible but also the huge success that it was.

Author: Alistair Horne and David Montgomery
Publisher: HarperCollins 1994
Paperback: 381 pages

Sunday 19 December 2010

Big Picture : Mortar Team

A rather young looking Mortar team prepare their weapon under instruction. Taken at Bunker Bash this group re-enact the 101st Airborne Division, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Friday 17 December 2010

Panzer Crew Uniforms

I've been spending a lot of time reading through my modest collection of Osprey books this week. Two in particular have been very useful and informative, given my interest in the German Panzer's of WWII. However I have also discovered/rediscovered some additional source material that has illuminated the subject and I felt was particularly useful for the model painter.

The two osprey books are excellent reference works for the model painter. The Panzer Divisions by Martin Windrow (Osprey Men-at-Arms Series No 24) has a useful section describing the original cap issued to tank crews, the Schutzmutze plus subsequent changes which saw the introduction of black Feldmutze (side cap) and the non regulation Officers field cap. There is also a good selection of photographs of an officers Feldjacke and the correct positioning of insignia and decorations.

There is also a slightly more wider ranging look at panzer uniforms in Panzer Crewman 1939-45 by Gordon Williamson (Osprey Warrior Series No 46). Both books include a wide selection of black and white period photo’s and colour illustrations showing the variations of Uniform worn by crew, especially in the latter years of the war.

Both books retail about the £10-12 mark although I bought mine from a reputable bookseller at Salute for £5 each. Its always worth shopping around with Ospreys as the older issues can nearly always be found cheaper online or from independent sellers.

For a much more detailed look at uniforms I would recommend getting your hands on a back copy of Military Illustrated Past and Present (Issues 36/37, Jun 1991). The two part article Some Examples of the Black Panzer Uniform 1939-45 by Andrew Steven and Peter Amodio is about as detailed as anyone could need and, like the Osprey books, is accompanied by some useful and very interesting photographs. Not all the content is relevant to the model painter (differences in button material or the type of internal belt hook for instance) but most is interesting and informative. Particularly useful are the dates for when certain items (such as the Schutzmutze) were issued and withdrawn from service.

This is a very scholarly article in a well respected magazine and well worth getting a copy of if at all possible. I've seem some issues being sold by magazine collectors, and even on eBay, at prices far in excess of the original cover price. I was lucky with my copies as I picked them up in a bundle of similar magazines outside a bookshop in Hythe (in Kent) while on Holiday last year.

Another, sometime overlooked, source of information are Military fairs. Often associated with Living History events like War & Peace traders sell pretty much everything from original items to replicas and from Buttons to Panzerfausts (I was tempted...). I often take photo's of rare items of uniform or equipment that I come across and, on the whole I haven't had any adverse reaction from retailers who think they may have a potential sale.

Wednesday 15 December 2010

Wargames Illustrated 279

I've just received my copy of the January issue of Wargames Illustrated. For me this has been an eagerly awaited issue as I'm collecting FOW armies for the Normandy Campaign and I am sorely tempted to buy the D-Day box set just released.

D-Day: The Allied Invasion of France Inside this issue the D-Day Theme is gorgeously illustrated with a large and well presented article about the largest seaborne invasion of the second world war. A second article Eight Armies in Normandy presents a large scale battle scenario featuring US and British beach landings, German defences and airborne landings. This massive game was played out over two days by the staff at battlefront an looked like a hugely enjoyable challenge.

So far I haven't had a chance to read through the rest of the magazine but there looks to be a good selection of articles covering alternative periods.

These include:

  • Lepowski's Prison Break set in 1944 and focuses on a World War II German mission to rescue 130 Fallschirmjäger prisoners. 
  • No Mean Streets looks at wargaming urban environments through a number of periods and settings
  • The Fall of the Fourteenth is a solo wargamers look at a classic engagement where a Roman Legion meets its end at the hands of the Gauls.
  • In Havana 1762 author David Greentree reviews his new Osprey book A Far Flung Gamble.
  • Great Warriors: Polish Hussars looks at the famous Polish Winged Hussars.
  • The Second Battle of Kosovo 1448 details the events when the Hungarian army attempted to stop the Ottomans in the Balkan Peninsula.
  • How to Build Wagons is another excellent modelling article following on in this well established and excellent series. 
  • An Army in Sprays shows how it is possible to paint 300 English Civil War figures - from bare plastic to painted - in just ten evenings! 
  • Little Men, Big Games. Running a big game at a wargames show or event can be incredibly daunting the first time around. This article gives a few ideas on how to avoid the classic pitfalls.
  • This extract from Kevin Dallimore's new book, Advanced Modelling and Painting looks at Converting a Late Roman Cavalrymen
Once again a wide selection of content presented to an excellent standard. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to drool over the D-Day articles...

Monday 13 December 2010

French vs Austrians Battle

Yesterday I had the pleasure of stomping on some of Napoleons finest. Posties Rejects gathered for a Napoleonic wargame using a set of home grown rules that flowed very well and were easy for a newbie like me to learn. I commanded the left wing of the Austrian army facing off against a mixed French force of veterans.

Our plan was for the more experienced players in the centre and on the right wing to force the pace of the battle while my job was to hold the left flank firm. As it was the plan evolved over the course of several turns with my 2nd Division slowly pushing forward and dominating the high ground. It was a tough fight but a series of advantageous initiative rolls worked against our opponents.

I had an early lucky break with a resounding victory over the Cavalry facing me sending them into an uncontrolled rout that saw them off the table. I can assure you this was nothing to do with tactics or clever playing, it was just lucky dice rolls. Not that I'm complaining because with the enemy cavalry gone - and his reserves at least two turns from entering the fray - I was able to push forward with my Infantry and consolidate my line.

Meanwhile our centre got a little bit muddled but essentially worked its way down to an artillery duel and some desultory infantry charges. The real action took place over on the Austrian right wind with some dramatic cavalry charges and counter charges that saw units rushing to and fro across the table with élan.

Here are a few more pictures of the days action.

The Austrian left wing stakes its claim to the hill then pushed forward throughout the battle.

The Angry Lurker gets a close up picture of the action

The clash of Cuirassiers in the final turn of the game proved indecisive

The end of the battle saw a flurry of activity resulting in a narrow win for the Austrians

Apologies for the lack of detail (units involved etc.) but I was focusing on learning this set of rules as I have never played them before. Next time we play I'll make more detailed notes and try to put together a better battle report. I have to say though that despite the handicap of not knowing the rules these were easy to understand and I soon got to grips with them and was able to focus on tactics rather than technique. All in all a very enjoyable game.

Sunday 12 December 2010

Big Picture : 3D Dungeon

I took this picture at Dragonmeet in 2006. This is an example of the pre-painted modular dungeon scenery made by Dwarven Forge. The sections lock together and are of a reasonable quality in terms of detail and variety, although a large set-up like this could set you back a fair sum.
Many manufacturers now make similar products and accessories for the dedicated dungeon crawler.

Friday 10 December 2010

Wartime Films: British Tanks at War

Format: Black & White, PAL
Run Time: 89 minutes
I picked up a great DVD while Christmas shopping at the weekend. British Tanks At War is an Imperial War Museum collection of five wartime films made by the Ministry of Information, the Directorate of Army Kinematography and the Army Film Unit between 1941 and 1942.

The films are presented in their original format without commentary as historical documents in their own right. And I think they are a fascinating look behind the scenes both of the Tank corps at that time and of army film making in general.

In effect what you have on this DVD are five propaganda films made by the British for their troops and for training. I use the word Propaganda because they are particularly upbeat for an army that was still reorganising itself after the disaster of Dunkirk and where the desert victories of later 1942 and the Normandy Campaign were still to come. Montgomery would later refer to the need to "binge up" the troops - to get them in a fighting mood and confident of victory - and these films clearly formed part of that process.

Its hard to say if these films had the desired effect but the style is similar to the newsreels and broadcasts of the time so probably wouldn't have seemed as condescending as they do to a modern audience. Having said that they are informative, particularly the film on tank recognition.

The last of the five films was perhaps the biggest eye opener as it looked at the making of a tank, in this case a Valentine. It didn't go into every detail but showed that each tank was a collection of parts built and assembled in various workshops. One thing I was struck by was the incredibly manual nature of the work, and the lack of modern Health and Safety standards. The build process illustrated in this film is also a million miles away from the production line approach of the Americans or the TAKT system that the Germans employed. It's much more craftsmanship like and certainly doesn't look like a factory on a war footing.

Wednesday 8 December 2010

December Poll - Wish Lists

With just two shopping weeks left before Christmas I thought I'd pose a seasonal question for my readers. Do you provide your loved ones with a Wish List to 'help' them pick the right present for you? Lets face it, our hobby can be a little bit intractable to the uninitiated and the chances of receiving something you want or need can be pitifully small. Or maybe the whole idea of making a list just seems a little too presumptuous and maybe even a little bit rude.

I tend to make up a list of items I need/want towards the end of the year. This helps me prioritise what I actually need and also gives me a chance to shop around for the best price. I then show the list to my wife a few weeks before Christmas in the sure and certain knowledge that most of my family (like everyone else at this time of year) hasn't got a clue what to buy me and will ask her "what does Lee want for Christmas". It's a cunning - albeit unsubtle - plan.

The other benefit of a list is that I use it as a shopping list for the January Sales. I tend to be put on an enforced purchasing embargo in the run-up to Christmas "...just in case someone has bought it for you". Anything I need, but now can't buy, goes on the list and if I don't get it as a present I treat myself to it in the sales. Its a bit of a win-win situation, which is rare these days. The only problem is that like most gamers my wish list is often very long indeed.

Another tactic, agreed with Mrs BigLee is that we buy our own presents and swap them over to be wrapped. OK there's no surprise on Christmas morning but this way we get exactly what we wanted at the price we wanted. No ill fitting sweaters or packs of socks for me! So what's your approach to the 'festive season'? Do you make a list or not, or maybe you buy it so they can wrap it. I'd be interested to know what you do so please vote in the poll (on the right at the top of the side banner) and leave your comments here.

Monday 6 December 2010

Tiger 131 Restoration Update

Tiger 131 is one of only a handful of Tiger I tanks still in existence and the Tank Museum has taken great efforts to keep it running. The Engine is currently away being restored and in the meantime the Museum has decided to investigate any damage caused by running it. This YouTube video museum curator David Willey discusses the work conducted so far.

Tiger 131 has been temporarily removed from public display and towed to the Museum’s workshop, whilst this detailed investigation work is carried out. Daily tours will enable visitors to see the tank but only on a first come first served basis.

Sunday 5 December 2010

Big Picture : Father Christmas

I'm cheating with today's Big Picture because I have shown this model on my Blog before. In fact it was the feature of my first proper post on this blog following the obligatory "Hello, this is a new blog" post. So after nearly two years (wow the time has flown by!) I think it's only fair this model gets another airing, but this time in LARGE format!

Friday 3 December 2010

A New Project in Snow

OK not quite a game related post but a fun one instead. I got off work yesterday because of the prevailing snowy conditions here in Essex. The snow isn't all that deep compared to further north in the UK but the roads are terrible. There seems to be little in the way of gritting going on and every time I have ventured out in the car I've slipped and slid to and from my destination. I managed to get into work but every trip has been a calculated gamble.

We had more snow on Wednesday evening and by Thursday morning road conditions had deteriorated still further. I got to work, but only just. By consensus we all agreed to go home early before the roads got even more dangerous. Consequently I had a rare afternoon at home.

Both the kids also had the day off school and we took advantage of the convergence of free time to get in the garden and play in the snow. I suppose I could have spent the afternoon painting but instead we made snow angels, a snowman and had a snowball fight.

All in all much better than being in work!

On a side note, I've got some models that need to be base coated and I normally do this using a spray primer. Obviously I can't do this indoors so I usually go in the garden. The sub zero temperatures however are not idea conditions in which to spray paint models so the cold weather has put my current project on hold for a few days. The weather is set to improve slightly over the weekend so hopefully I'll get a chance to make some progress with my Rifle Platoon.

Wednesday 1 December 2010

Dragonmeet 2010

On Saturday I went to Dragonmeet with my daughter for our annual pre-Christmas game convention / shopping trip. We usually spend a long morning watching games, shopping and talking to other gamers before heading off to Oxford Street and Covent Garden to soak up a little atmosphere. Despite the bitter cold attendance at the convention seemed higher this year than last, which has to be seen a good sign given the current economic climate.

Trade Hall at Dragonmeet 2010
I had a long chat with Jeff Combos author of the roleplaying game Hollow Earth Expedition. I've been intrigued by this game for a while and after spending a a very convivial 20 minutes talking to Jeff I decided to buy the core rulebook. The game is set in the tense and tumultuous 1930s and draws its influences from the literary works of genre giants like Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This adventure RPG emphasises storytelling and roleplaying while providing an elegant framework for combat and action.

Jeff Combos signs my copy of Hollow Earth Expedition
The convention is very much focused on participation games with tables on two floors of the Kensington Town Hall. However there are also a small selection of excellent traders in attendance including smaller independent companies selling their games. One of the larger stalls was Leisure Games and I picked up the latest FOW rulebook (Das Book) at a very reasonable price.

Lots of Dragonmeet Loot

I also bought another set of gaming dice because... well just because. A gamer can never have enough dice. And besides they were shiny and called to me.

My Precious!

Another interesting stall was the Mongoose publishing stand. They always have an interesting selection of books on sale for their core games. One set that caught my eye was the Judge Dread game. Next to the range of books they also had a glass cabinet with various models to accompany the game, including one of Dread himself.

After we left the convention we headed over to London Graphics next to Covent Garden so I could pick up a couple of new Winsor and Newton Series 7 brushes. These are expensive but by far the best brushes I have ever owned and the ones I got a couple of years ago still look and perform as good as new. My daughter was also able to get me a Christmas present there (with a bit of hinting from me) so all in all it was a worthwhile diversion.

London Graphic Centre
Despite the cold we both had a nice day out and came home with a satisfactory volume of game loot. Dragonmeet continues to be an enjoyable event and one that I'm sure we will go to for many years to come.

Another mini for the Judge Dread game. This one features my new family Motto!