Friday 30 December 2011

Help me update the events calender

Well the title says it all really. Ever since Blogger introduced Pages as a feature I have had one dedicated to listing UK Events. This has included game conventions (both RPG, Wargame and other) and Living History events that may be of interest. Way back when this page was first started it consisted just a simple list of events but this was always getting out of date and needed constant revision. Eventually I removed the list and instead embedded a Google Calender. This means I can update the calender easily from any computer (or even my phone) and the details are automatically visible on the Events Page without having to make any edits in Blogger.

I try to keep this calender updated but it seems that no matter how much I add to it something always gets missed. Which is where you come in. It occurred to me that BLMA now has over 300 followers - a veritable Army of Darkness - and between you I'm sure you'll be able to let me know if anything is missed, wrong or needs to be added. So please take a look at the Events Page and and get in touch if changes need to be made.

One change I will be implementing this year is that I have decided to list some key events from outside the UK. I'm sticking to the larger more important events in the gaming calender for now but if there is something that deserves to be listed let me know and I'll add it.

Thursday 29 December 2011

Back to work

Like millions of other people I went back to work yesterday after a food filled four day break. Honestly I reckon I've put on 6lb in the last week and it was almost a relief to get back to my desk and some semblance of normality. Having said that I now have a very busy week and a half before me culminating in a trip up to Manchester for a training course late next week. I guess I'll just have to console myself with all the goodies I got for Christmas....

I love my family. Not only are they kind and generous people they actually buy presents that I'll enjoy. No socks for me! Not a bad haul of loot I think you'll agree.

Now that Christmas is out of the way my self imposed spending embargo is lifted and I can start to think about my next miniatures purchase. Mind you with all these DVD 's and books I'm not sure I'll have time to paint anything until about mid April! 

Monday 26 December 2011

My new Über Kamera

I've been a good boy this year and Mrs BigLee treated me to a new camera. The Olympus SZ-30MR replaces my Canon A710-IS as my 'backup' compact (I still have my Canon SLR for best). The only problem is that calling it a compact really only seems to refer to its physical dimensions and the fact that it doesn't have an interchangeable lens. In every other respect the specification of this camera is mind boggling and makes every other compact I have owned in the past look like mere toy's!

With a resolution of 16.8mp and a 24x Optical Zoom this camera rivals my SLR. The zoom in particular is very impressive giving an equivalent focal length of 25-600mm meaning there are few situations where it won't come in handy. And with an equivalent ISO range from 80 to 3200 I can take pictures in very low light without resorting to flash - useful in museums and galleries where flash photography is not allowed. One of the features I'm particularly looking forward to exploring is the ability to shoot HD Video and take still pictures at the same time. This will come into its own at Air-shows where I want to film the action and take pictures but can't physically operate two machines simultaneously.

Over the years I have found that having a compact camera as an alternative to my SLR comes in very useful when I can't carry loads of gear with me. Some conventions for instance are just too crowded to bring a large camera bag plus a bag for shopping. Also there are some 'posh' events where a bulky SLR and associated kit just isn't appropriate. This new compact means I can bring a smaller camera without loosing much of the functionality I enjoy with my SLR.

I've always enjoyed taking pictures and one of my core principles with this Blog is to illustrate it with the best photo's I can take. This new camera will help me achieve that aim.

Saturday 24 December 2011

Happy Christmas Folks!

Wishing all my readers a very Happy Christmas.

Thanks to everyone that has followed my blog throughout the year. May Santa bring you lots of toys!

Thursday 22 December 2011

You've gotta love Battlefront

I'm sure that for non Flames of War players the title of this post may be a little contentious but right now I want to 'big up' my respect for Battlefront so bare with me. The last issue of Wargames Illustrated contained a rather enigmatic full page advert announcing the release of the 3rd Edition rules for Flames of War. Now there is a video (embeded below) elaborating on this news and announcing a special offer for veteran FoW players. Battlefront are giving away the paperback version of the 3rd edition rules to anyone that owns the hardback 2nd edition book. Now that's what I call customer service!

Awesome! Like most existing FoW players I will probably end up buying the hardback 3rd Edition rules at some point but I do like the handy sized paperback version of the rulebook and would have had to replace it eventually.

Whether your a FoW player or not I think most gamers would agree this is a great way of acknowledging existing players (as well as being a shrewd piece of PR). Nice one Battlefront!

Wednesday 21 December 2011

Wargames Illustrated 291

Last weekend I had a generally lazy and relaxed couple of days while outside the temperatures plummeted and the tempers rose. Somehow we managed to get pretty much everything - baring a last minute food shop - out of the way. The result was we actually had a weekend where we didn't have to go out shopping or visit anyone or do anything much other than relax and chill out. So when the letterbox flapped on Saturday morning and I found the December issue of Wargames Illustrated sitting on my doormat, I new exactly what I would be reading for the next couple of days.

This months theme is the Road to Revolution and looks at the early battles of the American War of Independence. There are four theme related articles in this issue plus an additional one focused on how to build a New England Farmhouse for your table. As always the building article is very interesting and there are plenty of ways this terrain piece could be adapted for earlier or later periods.

For me one of the best articles linked to the theme is Soldiers of '75 which showcases some of the miniatures ranges available and gives a set of simple painting guides and colour pallets for those looking to wargame the period.

However for me the best articles this month are not related to the theme. The first is a great article called Bank Heist! and presents a series of scenarios based around the classic WWII film Kelly's Heroes. The film and the game are centred on a rouge bunch of Allied veterans set on robbing a bank full of Nazi gold. The scenario is designed to use the rule-set Nuts! from Two Hour Wargames but I reckon it could be adapted to any WWII 28mm skirmish rules.

Another great article is Training your future opponent by Paul O'Grady. The article talks about how he has tutored his son in the fine art of wargaming. I suspect that a good proportion of the readers of BLMA fall into the same age bracket as me and have children (or as I refer them, Padawan learners) of their own. Both my girls are trainee gamers and owned their own set of polyhedral dice from a young age so this article struck a cord with me.

All in all not a bad issue with plenty to keep a broad range of gamers happy.

Monday 19 December 2011

I didn't even know he was il...

Ronery no more
I couldn't let today's sad news pass by without comment. Yes, I view the death of North Korea's crackpot dictator, Kim Jong-Il, as a bad thing. I'll never forget his song in Team America. I laughed so much I nearly had a coronary. He was just so damned funny that I fear we will never see his like again....

Who am I kidding, in world full of shortages the one thing we have an excess of are potential power hungry despots. This year has been a good year for getting rid of dictators and tyrants (one way or another) but there's always another self styled demi-god ready to float to the top of the cesspool.

If history has taught us anything its that there are just not enough bullets to go around.

Don't get me wrong, I am a man of peace. I believe in the power of negotiation, compromise and shared responsibility. But I'm also a pragmatist and there are some world leaders for whom I have not and will not be shedding a tear when they meet whatever sticky end they have in store for them. In Kim Jong-Il's case, probably cholesterol.

An Early Present

On Friday the Delvers gathered for our bi-weekly game night. Unfortunately the GM of our DnD 4E game couldn't make it but the rest of us gathered to play a board game instead. We ended up playing Munchkin which I bought a few weeks ago. I think everyone enjoyed it as we all lost track of time, overrunning our normal time slot by an hour until well after midnight!

This will be our last game night before the end of the year and I received a present from my good friend and fellow blogger, Derek (aka DJK). He said the unexpected gift was recognition of all the driving I tend to do for the group. I've never considered it a chore but even so it's nice to be thanked! Black Jackals is a novel set in WWII and is part of an ongoing series of books by Iain Gale. The other book is one I'm particularly looking forward to reading, Churchill's War Lab.

This was a very unexpected gift and definitely worthy of an Honourable Mention. DJK sir, I salute you!

Sunday 18 December 2011

Big Picture : Typhoon

Here's another picture from the Newlyn Collection, this time of a Hawker Typhoon Fighter Bomber being rearmed prior to a mission. This looks like an 'official' photo but there is no indication of which body or agency was responsible for taking the picture.

There is a Censors note glued to the back of this image and it reads as follows:

Passed by the Censor - No. 271943
"The Hawker Typhoon - Britain's Latest Fighter-Bomber"
Latest and most deadly fighter-bomber in the armoury of the R.A.F., the Hawker Typhoon is now on full operational duties. Fitted with a Napier Saber engine and armed with four 20mm cannon - two in each wing - it carries two 500lb bombs. Its high speed and great range enable it to penetrate deep into enemy territory on its missions of destruction, while its armament is a match for any Nazi fighters it may meet.

The Typhoon was an invaluable part of Allied air supremacy over Normandy both during and after the landings. The Typhoon was originally intended as the replacement for the Spitfire but eventually settled into the Fighter Bomber role. By October 1943 the Typhoon was being fitted with rockets for its new ground attack role against enemy vehicles of all types.

Friday 16 December 2011

What's on your list?

With just over a week to go before Christmas and I'm reasonable sure that I'm getting a lot of what I wanted. My family all make lists because it means both the giver and receiver are happy on Christmas morning. Its not to everyone's taste, but it works for us. And my wife and I have an understanding at this time of year that helps smooth things along. I promise not to buy anything in the couple of months prior to Christmas (just in case its already bought) and she promises to turn a blind eye when I go on a post x-mas shopping spree. Win Win.

Most of the models and miniatures I want I'll get after New Year and probably most will be bought online. But what about you? Do you have a wish list for Christmas or will you be receiving socks again?

Wednesday 14 December 2011

Spirit of resistance

A couple of weeks ago I took my youngest daughter to the Natural History Museum in London. We went primarily to see the dinosaur exhibits but while we were there I found this modest but unexpected memorial in one of the corridors.

The inscription below the sculpture reads as follows:
This plaque is dedicated to all the men and women who served with the Special Operations Executive (SOE) at home and overseas during the Secon World War.
The SOE was a British wartime secret service organisation established to conduct irregular warfare. Its mission was to 'aid and encourage all resistance to the enemy in the occupied territories'. From 1942 to 1945, SOE Station XVB, known as Demonstration Room, occupied these sealed galleries in this part of the Natural History Museum.
Here, specialised military equipment was displayed for briefing British and Allied staff and SOE field agents, Their Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth visited the galleries on 1 March 1945.
Unveiled by HRH The Princess Royal on 20 April 2004
This was where the hardware and gadgets of wartime spy's and insurgents were displayed. To use the lexicology of James Bond, this was Q's workshop! All manner of weird and wonderful devices were shown here, including exploding rats, petrol can radio sets, folding motorbikes and the other more mundane equipment of irregular warfare. Much of this was designed to be dropped behind enemy lines or with special operatives.

There is more information about the discovery of the Museums wartime role in this article in the Guardian newspaper from 2004.

Monday 12 December 2011

Another plug for W&N brushes

 I have reviewed and raved about Winsor and Newton Series 7 Brushes before and its high time I did it again. These Kolinsky Sable brushes really are the best I have ever used and this was brought home to me over the weekend. I realised that I have been using some of these brushes for three years and they are still as good as the day I purchased them.

Series 7 brushes are manufactured using the winter tail hair of the Kolinsky Sable. This hair has excellent 'carrying' capacity due to the minute scales that cover the hairs. This means that you don't have to keep reloading your brush when working on small or intricate details. The hair also has exceptional spring and retains its shape even after long use.

I now have five Series 7 Brushes and although together this represents about £80 worth of investment I don't think that's bad considering the fact that I haven't had to replace any in three years and I can't see me needing to for some time to come. Of course I do my best to look after my precious brushes which has helped prolong their life as highly valued tools. I use the following simple rules to preserve and extend the life of my brushes and these rules can be applied whatever make you use.

  • When painting work the brush in the direction of the hair not against it. This will stop the hairs from becoming damaged and bent. 
  • Always rinse brushes thoroughly in clean water between colours to stop paint solidifying in the base of the hairs. If you live in a hard water area it may be worth considering distilled water for this task.
  • Never leave brushes sitting in water. It swells the wooden handle and unseats the hairs by dissolving the glue at their base.
  • Clean thoroughly with a brush soap at the end of every painting session. I use Masters Brush Cleaner but any PH neutral hand soap will do fine. 
  • Reform the tip of the brush using one of the creases in the palm of your hand.
  • Let brushes dry horizontally so water does not seep down into the handle. 
  • Once completely dry protect the tip with the plastic cover usually provided. 
  • Never store in an airtight box, this can result in fungal growth which will damage the hairs. Mine are store in a wooden pencil box with ventilation holes in the lid. 
  • Use cheaper 'disposable' brushes for drybrushing and other destructive tasks like applying glue to bases and for undercoating. 

Happy painting folks!

Sunday 11 December 2011

The Newlyn Collection : Lancaster Crew

My Brother-in-Law is a bit of a collector. Some time ago I posted a few pictures from his man-cave showing just a small part of the huge collection of WWII memorabilia he has amassed. Part of his collection includes old photographs he has picked up at various trade shows and through his many contacts at Veteran associations. I've persuaded Ray to release some of his more interesting images via this blog. Many of them are unique and have been in private hands for many years and consequently have not been available in the public domain until now. 

The first picture from the collection is a bit of a mystery. The Image appears to show the crew of an Avro Lancaster Bomber but beyond that we have very little information. There is no date on the reverse of the image and no mention of where it was taken. There are also no distinctive marking on the aircraft which might help identify the subject. All I can say is that this picture was taken sometime after 1942 when the Lanc was introduced. I'm sure an aircraft enthusiast might be able to tell more from the scant information in this image but I've not been able to deduce any more. All the more reason to put the image out on the Web. 

Used with permission of the Newlyn Collection
If anyone can enlighten me more about this picture then please leave a comment below and maybe together we can rebuild the story of this photo and its crew.

Friday 9 December 2011

Big Picture : A39 Tortoise

This picture was taken a long long time ago, back when I was just a "wee-nipper". A copy is in the About Me page above but here it is full size. This is the Tank Museum in Bovington about 1977 and the hansom young man standing on the tank by the turret in the red track top and blue shorts is none other than yours truly. Looking out from behind me (in a matching track top non-the-less!) is my little sister and the older gentleman in the blue shirt and dark coat to the left and below us is my Grandfather.

The tank we are climbing all over is the A39 Heavy Assault Tank or Tortoise. The initial designs for the Tortoise project dates back to 1943 but was not ready until 1947 and was never accepted into service. This particular vehicle is still in running order and was given a gallop round the paddock at this years Tankfest.

Thursday 8 December 2011

First game of Munchkin

When I went to Dragonmeet a couple of weeks ago I picked up two new boardgames. I specifically chose games that could be played by the whole family and were fun to play. Munchkin by Steve Jackson Games definitely falls into that category. Its also illustrated by John Kovalik (of Dork Tower) who is one of my favourite webcomic artists.

I roped in the kids to help me play this game as it works best with more players (ie more opportunities to back-stab your friends!). The rules are fairly simple and as most of the in-play rules are printed on the cards this is a fairly intuitive and easy game to get into. Its also a real laugh as most of the cards are an in-joke or tongue in cheek dig at the Dungeons and Dragons game and its conventions. Even if you're not an old D&D player like me you'll still find it funny as the artwork and concepts work excellently together.

My daughter Sarah and her boyfriend Perry helped play-test the first game. Being a gamers daughter Sarah got most of the in-jokes but even Perry who has never rolled a polyhedral dice in anger got most of the humour. (Artwork: John Kovalic)
Munchkin combines a board game with a card based game making it easy to learn and fun to play (Artwork: John Kovalic)
The artwork and humour are very well balanced and integral to the enjoyment of the game. (Artwork: John Kovalic)
This first game lasted about an hour and a half but we were working through the rules so I expect future games will be a bit shorter. There are loads of expansion sets for this game and I'm sure I'll be picking up one of these in the not to distant future.

Tuesday 6 December 2011

Honorary Member

The Dagenham Dungeon Delvers met last Friday for our ongoing DnD 4e Campaign. Usually I host games (centrally located etc) but on this occasion myself and other members of the group travelled to the home of the Evil GM for the game. The Evil GM's son has been joining us for a brief period at the start of each game (before his bedtime) as has the family cat, Fish.

Fish is an old puss now but his curiosity clearly has not abated. Whenever the Delvers gather at the Evil GM's he usually puts in an appearance, if only to meow loudly until someone gives him a stroke. This game however he sat on the end of the sofa watching the action and occasionally meowing advice at us. He's become something of a fixture in our recent games so I think its high time we made him an honorary member of the Delvers.

The game itself adopted the usual pattern of of our group blundering around until we stumble into an uneven combat and nearly get ourselves killed. I'm not sure if  this counts as a strategy but it seems to work for us!

Our party interrupts a Gnoll ritual designed to raise a Daemon.

Sunday 4 December 2011

Big Picture : Die-cast Fun

A few years ago I and my family took a trip on the Romney Hythe and Dymchurch Railway. This is a Narrow Gauge train line that runs from Hythe all the way out to Dungeness and runs a selection of vintage steam locomotives. Along the way there's a small museum featuring a model railway and a selection of old toys. Amongst the latter I saw these two classics, both of which I had as a kid.

The metallic green spaceship at the top is an Interceptor from the TV series UFO. These were made by Dinkey Toys between 1978-80 and featured a front firing black and yellow missile with a loading spring located on the underside. Recently a mint example, in its box, sold for £132 on eBay!

The model at the bottom was one of my absolute favourites. Its an Eagle Transporter from the TV series Space 1999. This was another Dinkey toy in 1/110 scale. The pod (missing in this example) was detachable and there were several different types to collect.

Thursday 1 December 2011

The Player of Games

I've been taking a break from history books to re read some of my favourite sci-fi. I needed a break from the relentless march of facts and dates and just read something for relaxation purposes only. I'm a big fan of the fiction of Iain Banks but its his science fiction (published under the name Iain M. Banks) that I think is the most outstanding.

His 'Culture' series of books - loosely set within the pan galactic humanoid society of the same name - are excellent and really stretch the imagination. Each of the Culture stories stand alone so you can read them in any order and without any prior knowledge, which I think makes these stories very accessible.

I'm reading Player of Games at the moment and I've already dug out several other titles and lined them up to read after this. I still have plenty of history books to get through (the pile is always growing), but for now I'm happy to let my mind wander for a few thousand light years.