Monday 31 January 2011

M4A1 Platoon

I've completed a second project in the same month! My M4A1 Platoon for my Flames of War US Tank Company was a Post-Christmas present to myself. I bought it from Ebay and knew it wouldn't be long before they got painted.

Although I have again opted for utility over historical accuracy (I'm trying to keep these generic) I did try and add in some extra details to make these vehicle look a little more personalised. The crew of the fourth tank in this line-up for instance has painted over their white star on the turret, although they haven't obscured the star completely. One of the vehicles has retained its yellow Bridge Plate on the front (showing the vehicles weight in tons) although I found it impossible to paint in the numbers. I've no idea how other painters manage it but after several botched attempts I gave up and just left the yellow disc in place. All the other vehicles have extra stowage on their decks including barrels, extra lengths of track and bags.

This is the HQ Tank, christened 'Tex' by its crew. I used the name decals that are part of the US decal set on these models so every vehicle is unique in its own way.

This platoon went from box to table in under two weeks which is something of a record for me. I must be getting better at this painting lark!

The only problem with completing this platoon is that I now have no more FOW models left to paint! I've finished all the units I wanted for my starter forces and need to give some serious thought as to what to buy next. In the meantime I have a few terrain building projects in the pipeline (one of which will be revealed on Wednesday).

Sunday 30 January 2011

Big Picture : US Rifle Platoon

I was looking through some of my old pictures and came across this photo of a US Rifle Platoon (with supporting M3 Half Track) from the Military Odyssey living history event in 2007. I thought it worth putting up as this weeks Big Picture because I recently just finished painting one of these platoons for my FOW forces.

Friday 28 January 2011

Supply Depot Objective Marker

I'm still working on the new Sherman Platoon but in between I've also been making some Objective Markers. This Supply Depot consists of several smaller scenery items by Ironclad Miniatures. I bought some of these at SELWG in 2009 and decided to buy some more because I liked them so much. The result is this model consisting of six of the resin models on a single large base.

The only problem with this model is that no sooner had I finished it than I realised I may have based it wrongly. I checked the rulebook and sure enough... "Objectives are modelled on a standard large base - 65mm wide by 50mm deep." (Pg 195 of the FoW Rulebook). 

In a word, b**ger! Serves me right for letting my enthusiasm get the better of me and not preparing enough before I started work. I can still use this as a terrain feature in the game but I'll pick up a few large bases for future objective markers.

Wednesday 26 January 2011

The Character Archive

I was tinkering with my computer last night - cleaning up the hard drives and removing old files - when I came across a folder filled with all my old D&D character sheets. Its been such a long time since I needed to create a new PC that I had almost forgotten I had this folder (a real treasure trove) on my computer. Each character sheet describes a hero of my past and comes complete with memories of adventures and quests that are as vivid to me now as they were when I played them the first time.

I still have the character sheet for my first ever D&D character. Of course I didn't have a computer back then (few people did in those dark ages) but many years later I transferred the details from a photocopy of the original character sheet onto a digital version of the Basic Character Sheet. I'm glad I did because Volcan the Slayer (how embarrassing) still lives as a result. I recall his first ever battle - against a Carrion Crawler - and knew I was hooked on this game for life.

Another favorite was the expert archer Bryn Keensight. Bryn was lethal with a bow and rose to lead his companions through several adventures. One of my most vivid memories was facing off against a Beholder and realising that Bryn was running out of arrows. So the archer pulled out a Rod of Lordly Might - a magical item with the ability to turn into one of several weapons - and charged into close combat with the eye tyrant. The attack was a success, but only just.

I also found some of my darker characters including a thief/assassin with a tenuous grip on the rules of civilised society. Silas was a dangerous character, for friend and foe alike, but met his match in the form of a very annoying Kender. Another non-hero character was the huge Half Ogre, Bilious Green. Bill was not well endowed with intelligence but what he lacked in brains he made up for in shear muscle. In one encounter he killed a Minotaur with a single attack of his Greatsword (a family heirloom) which confounded the GM as much as the Minotaur.

Reading through these characters I realised that I valued the character sheets as much as I do the miniatures I painted to accompany them. Memories of great games have soaked into these characters and made them an invaluable part of my gaming heritage. I'm glad I kept them and rest assured I will be backing-up and password protecting the files to preserve them for the future!

Monday 24 January 2011

Tough Times

The current tight financial climate in the UK and overseas is definitely starting to effect our hobby. The first casualties have already fallen and I expect we will see more as the year progresses. The recent debacle at Wargames Factory (discussed in detail on TMP here and here) seems to have been precipitated by the need for that company to raise money outside the US. The full details of the situation are no doubt more complicated than this but judging from the few 'facts' available this seems to be the situation. Now another company (Bastion Studios) is being shut down due to financial problems. This was reported on Meeples and Miniatures last week.

The gaming industry has always been volatile, with small companies rising and falling all the time. Even some of the larger names in the industry like Rackham have been lost in recent times so few people can be under any doubt that hobby companies are not immune to the current climate. Even the behemoth that is Games Workshop has experienced a wobble on the stock exchange recently. I'm not suggesting they are about to go belly-up but at times of weakness anything can happen.

I expect many gamers are, like me, tightening their belts a little this year. Here in the UK we have rising inflation, increased VAT and rising fuel and food prices combined with pay freezes and job cuts in the public sector. The retail market will likely suffer to some extent this year but I suspect that the games industry will suffer more than others. While you and I may consider our hobby purchases vitally important the fact is to anyone else they would be considered a luxury item.

So what can we as gamers do about the situation, aside from wearing an extra jumper or walking to work. The prevailing advice has long been to spend our hard earned cash at the FLGS and to buy direct from the manufacturers. But I think games companies, like retailers in any other sector, need to realise that brand loyalty alone will not save them if they built their houses on weak foundations.

My suggestion goes against the grain (brace yourself, some of you may not like this) because while I support brand loyalty I also believe firmly in the need to make our individual budgets go further. So my suggestion is shop around, buy second hand, squeeze the best deals you can from the Internet and most important of all, keep playing. Choose those companies and or ranges you really want to support and focus your limited resources there.

There will almost certainly be more casualties in the hobby industry over the coming 12-18 months. I think the best we can hope for is that those that survive come out of this period stronger, and those that die get a second chance to do things better when the market recovers.

Sunday 23 January 2011

Big Picture : Settlers of Catan

A giant Settlers of Catan demo game at the 2008 Dragonmeet convention. It looked pretty cool laid out like this and certainly the players that signed up for the demo games seemed to be enjoying themselves.
The Settlers of Catan is a multiplayer board game designed by Klaus Teuber. First published in 1995 in Germany players assume the role of settlers on the game board, each attempting to build and develop their settlement while trading and acquiring resources. Players are rewarded points as their settlements grow; the first to reach a set number of points is the winner.

Friday 21 January 2011

FoW Army Lists

I've been working out the points values of my respective FOW armies. I've only included those units that are legal (ie fit the army list I am using) so for instance the Konigstiger I painted isn't included in my Panzer Lehr list. Having said that I expect my Brother-in-law and I will make some form of gentleman's agreement to allow us to use the forces we want and not get too bogged down in 'lists'. Anyway, here are the forces I have painted (or close to completion) and ready for battle.

Panzer Lehr Panzerkompanie
Company HQ
  2 x Panther A  (375pts)
Combat Platoons
  1st Panzer Platoon - 5 x Panther A (940pts)
  2nd Panzer Platoon - 5 x Panzer IV H (475pts)
Weapons Platoons
Divisional Support
  Gerpanzerte Panzergrenadier Platoon - HQ + 3 Squads  (335pts)
  Anti Aircraft Platoon - 8.8cm FlaK 36 Guns - HQ + 2 Guns (8 crew)  (225pts)
Total - 2350pts

US Tank Company (2nd Armored)
Company HQ
  2 x M4A1 Shermans (180pts)
Combat Platoons
  1st Tank Platoon - 5 x M4A1 Sherman  (450pts)
  2nd Tank Platoon - 5 x M4A1 (76mm) Sherman  (575pts)
Weapons Platoons
Divisional Support
  Armored Rifle Platoon - HQ Section + 2 Rifle Squads, 1 LMG Squad and 1 Mortar Squad (310pts)
  Tank Destroyer Platoon - HQ + 1 Section of M10 3"GMC Tank Destroyers  (175pts)
Total - 1690pts

I'm considering adding some air support for the US forces and motorised scout platoons for both armies. I'd like to add another Panzer IV platoon to the Lehr company but I suppose I ought to bolster the US tank compliment first. A lot will depend on what bargains raise their heads on eBay over the next few weeks!

So, any suggestions what I should add next?

Wednesday 19 January 2011

US Motorised Rifle Platoon

I've finished my latest Platoon for my Flames of War US Tank Company. Its taken a while for me to finish this Motorised Rifle Platoon but once I got stuck in things proceeded swiftly and I'm pretty happy with the completed job. Here are some pictures of the finished Platoon.

I've based this on the Rifle Platoon in the Cobra source book(page 61). I could have opted to paint these in the M1942 Camouflage Suit as this was issued to the 41st Armored Infantry Regiment, the 17th Armored Engineer Battalion of the 2nd Armored Division and the infantry of the 30th Infantry Division prior to D-Day. However it was soon withdrawn as it was considered to be too similar to German designs and resulted in many 'friendly fire' incidents. Instead I have painted these in regular uniform because I want to keep the unit as generic as possible. As I have indicated before this is effectively someone else's army (I'm painting them for my Brother-in-law) and he may want to make changes later.

For reference the front row consists of (from left to right) the HQ Section and the 60mm Mortar Squad, with the back row consisting of the 1st Rifle Squad, 2nd Rifle Squad and the Light Machine Gun Squad.

This is a close-up of the HQ squad consisting of a Command Team, a Rifle Team and a Bazooka Team with accompanying M3 Half Track. Also shown is an M3 37mm Gun Team that can replace the Bazooka Team at no extra cost.

This is another wide shot showing the HQ Squad and the rest of the Platoon. I tried to add a little more detail to the bases by adding some tall grass which I made myself. I think they look OK but I'm considering buying some pre-made grass 'tufts' which I saw recently.

I'm getting more confident working with 15mm miniatures (my 'background' is in 28mm) and each new project teaches me more new skills. The next project that I've already started working on is another M4A1 Sherman Platoon. I'm also working on a couple of ideas for some homemade terrain, but I'll reveal more once I've worked out the design ideas.

Monday 17 January 2011

Wargames Illustrated 280

Saturday morning and I heard the gentle plop of the post hitting the doormat. My copy of Wargames Illustrated had arrived and I had a clear afternoon to sit down and read through it for a change. This months theme is the Sudan 1881-1885 and the Mahdist uprising of 84-85. This is one of those periods that I know little about beyond what I 'learned' from classic films like the 1939 version of  The Four Feathers staring Ralph Richardson and John Clements or the 1966 film Khartoum staring Charlton Heston. (i.e. Not a lot at all!)

More Moments in History - Battlefront are expanding their range of historical vignettes with three new sets including Washington & the Continental Army Standard; Conference at Yalta; Black Hawk Down; and The Death of Nelson. I've not collected any of these yet but I have to say I am tempted. I resisted last year because I was focusing on only buying miniatures to game with but I may treat myself to a set to paint for display.
Give Them Volleys! - A good overview of the situation that lead the British into the Sudan in 1883-5 and background to the events that lead to the death of General Gordon at Khartoum in January 1885.
Bunker Down - An interesting look at the use of Fortifications in Flames of War, focusing on the Atlantic Wall defences facing the Allied invasion of Normandy in 1944. This follows on from last months Theme and provides some interesting ideas and tactical suggestions for using fortifications in FoW.  
Circling the Square - Continuing this months Theme this article looks at the Campaign to save General Gordon and the Battle of Abu Klea on 17th January 1885. Contains some stunning examples of the new Perry Range of figures for the Sudan Wars.
The Tribes of Germania - Changing period dramatically this article looks at the long and protracted struggle of the German Tribes to resist Roman conquest.
A Good Dusting -An article by David Bickley on writing rules to wargame the Sudan War of 1883.
Back to Bases - An interesting article that discusses alternative ways of basing figures for gaming.
Unfinished Business - The last of the Theme articles in this issue looks at what happened after the death of General Gordon. In particular this article looks at the weapons and tactics of both sides and provides details for re fighting the Battle of Tofrek.
Second to None - Another follow up from last months theme this article looks at the US 2nd Infantry Division in northern France in 1944.
Fall in! 2010 - A Pictorial review of the HMGS East Convention.
Research and Imagination - An interesting article looking at the alternative history that is A Very British Civil War. This 'period' is proving very popular and has resulted in a wide range of miniatures from several manufacturers.
Mapping out the Peninsular War - A review of a new body of research that has been published as The Peninsular War Atlas by Colonel Nick Lipscombe.

As always a well put together issue and an enjoyable read with plenty of beautiful photographs and illustrations.

Sunday 16 January 2011

Big Picture :

This was taken at Lashendean Air Warfare Museum while I was on Holiday early last year. I wrote about my visit to this museum and posted a slide show of pictures including this one. The museum holds a large collection of recovered aircraft parts as well a sizeable collection of memorabilia and uniform insignia. This collection of RAF Air Wings shows the great variety in styles between 1918 and 2001.

Friday 14 January 2011

Hitler's Great Panzer Heist

I've just finished reading Hitler's Great Panzer Heist: Germany's Foreign Armor in Action, 1939-45 by Anthony Tucker-Jones. This is a fascinating book and opened my eyes to the scale of the victory Hitler gained when he occupied Czechoslovakia. Not only did Nazi Germany acquire a launching point for its later assault on Poland but it also acquired one of the largest arms industries in Europe. By the time Hitler's armies had taken control of the rest of Europe up to 25% of the Wehrmacht's panzer's were of foreign origin.

Over 10,000 British, Czech, French, Italian, Polish and Soviet tanks and other armoured fighting vehicles were turned on their former owners and bolstered the armed forces of the Wehrmacht. Of course capturing and reusing enemy vehicles was carried out my all sides in the war but by far the largest benefactor of such gains was the German war machine.

Further more the heavy industry of those nations occupied or allied to Nazi Germany continued to produce vehicles and munitions for their new masters. Tanks, self-propelled guns, assault guns, armoured cars, personnel carriers all were reused by the German army and her allies throughout the conflict right up until the bitter end. In additional all the major European vehicle manufacturers produced new tanks, transport and artillery for the Germans at some point during the war.

This is a very well researched book and sheds light on an overlooked aspect of history.

Price: (Amazon) £16.99
Hardcover: 224 pages
Publisher: Stackpole Books,U.S. (8 Feb 2008)
Language: English

Wednesday 12 January 2011

How modern is too modern?

'Modern History' by XKCD
I saw this webcomic recently and it got me thinking about a subject that has corssed my mind several times before. How modern can a conflict be before it becomes insensitive to wargame it? There are a slew of wargames and boardgames covering recent history from Vietnam to the Gulf War. Is it insensitive to game these? And what about re-enactors who don army surplus or replica uniform and 'live' the history. Are they glorifying war or exploring history?

It could be argued that all wargames are essentially making entertainment from death and destruction. I don't agree (obviously) but its a conclusion that is all to easy for the outsider to arrive at. This is one of the reasons why I think wargaming conventions and Living History shows are vital. I look on these events as outreach for our hobby, a chance to engage with the general public and show them that we are not weirdo's living in our mom's basements and subsisting on crisps and coke (or Cheetos and Mountain Dew).

My own personal definition of 'Modern' is anything after WWII, and for me the closer you get to current events the more uncomfortable I would be playing a game in that period. I personally would be uncomfortable playing a game based on the current conflict in Afghanistan for instance. Having said that I also have little interest (beyond a current affairs perspective) in modern conflicts and I'm therefore not likely to wargame them.

Wargaming isn't about recreating moral decision making and it is certainly not a simulation of events in graphic detail. I think many gamers would consider their hobby an intellectual exercise and a gateway to history. In essence all wargames are just chess with better playing pieces and nobody suggests that grand masters are warmongers. So what would you consider to be too modern to play? Or are you comfortable playing any conflict?

Monday 10 January 2011

Base Colour

I've managed to get quite a lot of painting done this weekend - well, a lot by my standards anyway. Despite a generally busy weekend somehow I found a few hours of relative peace in which to concentrate on the project in hand. So the US Motorized Rifle Platoon is nearing completion at last. There is still a lot to be done though so I expect these to still be on my desk in a weeks time.

One thing I settled on was Base colour as a recognition feature. By this I mean the chamfered edge of the base that does not get covered in gravel or static grass. I wanted a way to make my German and US forces stand out as separate armies, beyond the obvious differences of Uniform Kit.

So I have opted to 'edge' the bases of the US forces in Brown Violet (Vallejo 887) and the German forces in German Fieldgrey (Vallejo 830). In other words I have used a colour closely linked with that particular force. In reality the difference in edging is hard to notice until you put two stands next to each other, but that was the point after all. It's just another way of clearly differentiating between stands of opposing forces in a melee.

Sunday 9 January 2011

Big Picture : Outwit the Wittman

This picture was taken at Firepower in 2009 and shows part of the demo game put on by Dark Knights and Bloody Dawns. The Flames of War game featured the famous engagement at Villers-Bocage where the German tank ace Michael Wittman destroyed between 10 and 15 allied tanks with his single Tiger.

In this picture Wittman has already claimed his first casualties of the battle. However his luck soon runs out as his Tiger is hit. Wittman himself manages to make his escape and lives to fight another day.

Friday 7 January 2011

January Poll : Lead, Resin or Plastic?

This months Poll is as response to my recent self realisation that a large portion of my 'Lead Mountain' is actually not lead. I tend to buy miniatures from a practical or aesthetic point of view and what it is made of comes way down my list of purchasing criteria. Having said that I definitely prefer to paint metal miniatures. I like the weight of a metal miniature in my hand, the surface seems easier to clean and I think metal takes paint much better than plastic or resin. I may be wrong about all this of course, it could just be that having grown up with lead mini's I'm just a little bit biased towards them.

I have found that resin models are more likely to be coated with residues of mold parting agents, silicon or wax based products when bought. I wash all my miniatures in warm water with a small amount of washing up liquid before painting but especially so with Resin or Plastic mini's. Some resin pieces however are extremely smooth with a glass like surface which doesn't take water based (brush on) primer very well. I usually spray prime these instead. I've never experienced this problem with metal miniatures once they are washed.

Similar problems can also exist with plastic miniatures and one suggestion I have read about is to coat the min in watered down PVA glue then prime. The Glue gives the paint something to key onto the surface. I've not tried this myself but in theory it would work.

So do you have a preference? If you were faced with three identical miniatures, one in Lead, another in Plastic and the last in Resin, which would you choose to paint? The Poll will run till the end of the month but as always I'd like to hear about your preferences or experiences so feel free to leave comments below.

Wednesday 5 January 2011

Alchemy at Lead Mountain

As mentioned on Monday I've had a rough Christmas and consequently not got a lot done on the paining front. I'm feeling a lot better now and Monday I actually sat down and did a bit of painting, moving one small step closer to finishing my latest project. I also spent time carrying out what has become something of a New Years ritual; tidying up my model box.

I keep a 'working' box of tools and materials close to my desk but I also have a much larger toolbox filled with models and scenery yet to be worked on. This is where my Lead Mountain lives and like many embarrassing secrets it spends most of its time hidden away in the cupboard under the stairs. I pull it out several times a year to put new stuff in it and (rarely) take models out to paint. Now it doesn't take a physics genius to work out that it would take internal dimensions like the TARDIS to accommodate a lifetimes worth of collecting. I periodically have a sort out of models and - like thousands of painters before me - silently rebuke myself for buying so many when I never stood a chance of painting them all.

Last year I was ruthless in my sort out, and gave a lot of models to the kids in an attempt to encourage their own painting. This year I found it much harder to thin the ranks because I think 2010 is the first year when I haven't added to the Lead Mountain. There are two reasons for this (trust me I will get to the point eventually). First I've been trying to only buy miniatures to paint for current projects, only making new purchases when needed and painting almost immediately. This has taken some self discipline but clearly the policy has worked. The second reason for my static Lead Mountain is that a lot of what I have bought isn't lead or even metal!

It suddenly dawned on me that a large part of my Lead Mountain is actually Plastic or Resin. Obviously I've been aware of the trends towards these materials but I never truly appreciated just how much of what I purchase was not white metal. Which of course begs the question: Is it still a Lead Mountain if half the models are not metal?

Monday 3 January 2011

Lets try this again

Well the Christmas holiday is over for another year and although I worked most of it I had been hoping to get a little painting done during this 'quite period'. Such are the plans of mice and men!

Its been really quite in work all December then on Christmas Eve all hell broke loose. All our inspectors worked at some point over Christmas and when I got back in the office on Wednesday I had a pile of paperwork and invoices to process. As the end of the year approached the normal month-end deadline become even more critical. So whatever happened it was going to be a challenging few days. Then I got hit by a Stomach bug which left me feeling like a gutted fish, followed in short order by a chest cold. On a regular week I would have played the "Man Flu" card and taken a few days off, but not last week. Instead I dragged my sorry a** into work and struggled through the days towards the weekend.

As a balm for my weakened and battered soul I went online and spent some cash on some post Christmas presents. I ordered a book I've been looking at for a while now, Death by Design by Peter Beale from Amazon. Beale served in British Tanks during WWII so is ideal placed to understand the weaknesses of the tanks Britain started the war with, and more crucially, what it developed as the war progressed. I'm looking forward to reading his assessment of the inadequacies of British equipment (what Montgomery called the "Flawed Tool").

I also picked up another EBay bargain in the form of yet another box of tanks for Flames of War. In this case a Platoon of M4A1 Sherman's for my American Tank Company. Combined with those I already have this will complete the core units of the company. I still have the Motorized Rifle Company to finish painting (I'd hoped to work on those over Christmas) before I start on these though.

OK folks, time to go. Its a Bank Holiday Monday, I have no prior plans or responsibilities and everyone is spending the day relaxing and "doing their own thing"... so I think it's time I stopped prevaricating and did some painting, don't you?

Sunday 2 January 2011

Big Picture : Spartan Shield

This was taken at the Military Odyssey living history event in 2008. Although the focus of the event is invariably modern (with more WWI and WWII reenectors than any other period) there are other groups in attendance. This Shiled and Helm belong to a group dedicated to reencacting the Greek Wars.