Saturday 30 April 2011

I'd like to thank the Academy

I've been nominated for the Stylish Blogger Award by Joe at Lead, Paint and the General. This peer to peer award has been doing the rounds for the last few weeks and has been featured on many of my favorite blogs... and now it's my turn! Thanks Joe, I appreciate it.

The rules of the award are simple; Thank and link back to the person giving you the award (done above); Share seven things about yourself; and Select 10-15 blogs who you think deserve the award. Well here goes...

Seven things you never knew about BigLee

  1. I have an Honors Degree in Environmental Politics.
  2. I met my wife at School when I retrieved her tennis ball from a neighboring garden.
  3. My eldest daughter was in TV Series The Sorcerers Apprentice on CBBC a couple of years ago.
  4. I've been asked to collaborate on a book as the Photographer.
  5. I have something in common with Hitler, but at least I'm not as bad off as Goebbels.
  6. I have traced over 200 direct line ancestors on my Family Tree.
  7. I once stood on a mans chest while he lay on a Bed of Nails!!

10-15 Blogs who deserve this award (in no particular order) Some may have already been nominated by others, but thats because they are excellent!

If you've not been nominated don't despair. You'll be amazed how hard it has been to come up with just 15 when I regularly read over 100! All the blogs I follow are fantastic and I do my best to read them all and leave comments where possible.

And just in case you didn't believe me when I mentioned the guy and the Bed of Nails....

I love the look on the faces of the two women to the left of the picture. Horror, sheer horror!

Friday 29 April 2011

Royal Wedding Special

I'm not a Royalist, that much needs to be said. But I do like a bit of tradition, pomp and circumstance and today has it in spades. The problem is I'm not sure my fragile sanity can stand the inevitably banal TV commentary that will drone on for most of the day. I will probably end up watching some of the TV coverage of  today's Royal Wedding but it'll be with the sound off and in bite sized snippets.

What I'm really hoping to do today is get some serious painting done while the rest of the household (females all) are glued to the box admiring The Dress and other such trivialities. While they are happily distracted I will be finishing off a couple of painting projects that have remained neglected since I went on holiday. The week away combined with several busy Public Holidays and a growing backlog in work have conspired to keep me from my paints for nearly three weeks!

Us Brits have been given an extra day off to celebrate the Royal Wedding how we see fit. I'll be using my day off to paint some more Panzer's.

Thursday 28 April 2011

Demoncon 2011 Maidstone

My good friend and talented artist Dave Stokes has been featured before in this blog. His latest venture, the Webcomic Blackfriars seems to have been attracting some attention withing the comic community and has been invited to have a table at Demoncon in Maidstone this Sunday.

Dave will be selling prints of his artwork throughout the day. "I'll be sketching all day so you'll be able to grab a quick sketch of your favourite character for £5-£10. I'll also have some of my original artwork available to sell starting at £10. I'll be there between 10am and 4pm so if you're interested in getting a sketch please drop by and say Hi. I'll also have a few small printouts of my Blackfriars webcomic to show off"

Blackfriars Webcomic

Wednesday 27 April 2011

Ray's Man-Cave

I've mentioned my fellow FOW gamer, good friend and Brother-in-law Ray several times. We have visited many living hstory shows and game conventions together over the years. While I'm off spending hard earned cash on toy soldiers Ray is usually found looking at the real thing. He's an avid (his better half might say "obsessive"!) collector of memorabelia, books and autographs. Most of his collection remains boxed up and carefully stored but his best stuff is on display in his very own man-cave.

My family and I were over at his place this weekend, enjoying the easter sunshine and a BBQ. I also had a chance to take a good look around rays man-cave which is more like a small museum than a study. This time I brought my camera and couldn't resist taking a few pictures of some of the best items in Ray's growing collection.

Monday 25 April 2011

WWI Naval Battle

Clash of Dreadnoughts
On Saturday I joined Posties Rejects for a WWI Naval game. I've never played a naval wargame before (unless you count the CSG Pirates of the Cursed Seas) so this was always going to be an interesting and enjoyable experience for me. The game did not disappoint and neither did the usual good company of the other Rejects.

The rules were a home grown system devised by John, one of the Rejects. He also supplied all the models for this game and umpired while the rest of us battled it out on the high seas. Movement and direction (degrees Port or Starboard ) were determined before moving so players had to be careful about collisions between their own vessels. I think everyone found planning movement more than a couple of turns ahead quite difficult.

The Iron Duke takes a pounding
I had the dubious privilege of being the Commander in Chief for the German fleet and frankly our plan went to pot pretty quickly. Our force was divided into three commands with one Battlegroup starting the game close to shore and caught in a pincer between with a British destroyer fleet on its tail and a group of Capital ships approaching from ahead. The remaining vessels of the German High Seas Battlefleet were quite a long way out to sea and we started the game trying to decide whether to head to Port and tackle the British Destroyers before the Capital ships arrived. Or to head to Starboard and tackle the Capitals first. We chose the latter course of action but in retrospect I'm not not sure that either option would have resulted in success

The British destroyers were faster than we planned for and soon the German Battlefleet found itself divided and being destroyed piecemeal. My four Capital ships spent most of the game in a long range duel with the British Battleship Iron Duke. This vessel took a real pounding during the course of the game but refused to sink. The end result was a victory for the British with the Germans limping back to port for extensive repairs.

This was a great game, with deceptively simple rules. Thanks to John for running the game, supplying the miniatures and umpiring. Here are a few more pictures from the game.
The Angry Lurker snaps a picture
BigLee with Umpire John in Background
The German Flagship Bayern is targeted by the British

Sunday 24 April 2011

Big Picture : Battle Honors

While we were holiday last week we went into Exeter and visited the Cathedral before wandering around the Town center. One of the suprise discoveries for me was this little side chapel in the Cathedral dedicated to the Devenshire and Dorset Regiments which contained their Battle honors.

Friday 22 April 2011

Bovington - More Tanky Goodness

As mentioned in my earlier post I had a unique opportunity to visit the Tank Museum at Bovington twice in the space of a week. The first visit took advantage of the opening day for the new exhibit, Battlegroup Afghanistan but when I returned I focused on some of the tanks that I had 'ignored' previously.

This slideshow includes some detailed pictures of the allied desert armour from the second world war. I also took some time to explore in more detail the Allied tanks from the NW Europe campaign, including an interesting 'experimental' version of a beefed up Churchill tank. I hope you like the pictures.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Battlegroup Afghanstan Exhibition

While I was on holiday I had a the good fortune (and forebearing wife) to visit the Tank Museum at Bovington twice! Our choice of holiday destination meant we would litterally be driving past the museum on the journey to and from home. The outward visit took place on the 9th April which coincided with the openng of the new Battlegroup Afghanistan exhibition.

I enjoyed the new exhibit, made more interesting by the fact that members of the Royal Armoured Corp were present for this opening day. There were also a range of other activities on hand for the opening day including craft activities, facepainting and a chance to try on desert kit. Over easter there will also be a desert themed easter egg hunt.

Here are my pictures from the exhibition. If you get a chance to visit the museum then this is well worth checking out.

I'll post more pictures from Bovington, including those from my second visit on friday.

RIP Elizabeth Sladen

I've just read the very sad news that actress Elizabeth Sladen had died at the young age of just 63. A BBC spokesman issued this statement: "It is with much sadness that we can announce Elisabeth Sladen, the much-loved actress best known for her role as Sarah Jane Smith in Doctor Who and CBBC's The Sarah Jane Adventures, passed away this morning." Apparently she had been battling cancer for some time now and finally lost her fight.

Sladen first appeared in her signature role Sarah Jane Smith  in the BBC television sci-fi series Doctor Who between 1973 and 1976, opposite Jon Pertwee and Tom Baker. She went on to reprise her role in the revived series acting opposite David Tennant.

There are several tributes to her but I felt this one by artist John Kovalic best summed up how I feel about this sad news.

Tuesday 19 April 2011

Holiday Loot

I'm still working my way through the hundreds of photo's I took on holiday. As well as all the pictures I came home loaded down with loads of books that I purchased while away. The best bit  - for a miser like me - was that I didn't pay full price for any of them! I do love a bargain. If you get a chance to visit the Keep Military Museum over Easter then make sure you check out the shop, they have a wide selection of books, many reduced in price.

I also picked up the Wittmann v Ekins DVD from the Tank Museum which I bought with brithday money I received from the kids (thanks kids!). I'm looking forward to watching this but need to pick a quiet moment to enjoy it.

I reckon this lot will keep me happily amused for many months to come and expect to see several reviews here on this blog in due course.

Monday 18 April 2011

Tweeting Annoying or Twitterlicious?

Well I'm back from my holiday and I can happily report I am utterly exhausted and looking forward to going back to work for a good rest! I got to visit the Tank Museum twice while I was away (lucky me!) as well as the excellent Keep museum in Dorchester and the Fleet Air Arm Museum. The success of these visits can be measured in the 1000+ pictures I took between these three museums. Needless to say this is going to take a while to work through and label. I'll be posting my new pictures over the next couple of weeks as I work through them.

BigLee at Bovington Tank Museum
In the meantime I wanted to gauge reader reaction regarding my use of the Twitter feed to report on my activities while away. Did you find it useful, interesting, relevant, pointless or just annoying? More importantly should I keep it as a feature of this blog. Is it worth using this on future occasions when I'm on holiday or traveling? So should I remove it altogether. Keep it in its current form and location at the top of the blog or keep it and move it to the sidebar where it's less distracting?

I've put a Poll on this subject on the right but will only have it active for a week as I want to gauge opinion while last weeks tweets are still fresh in the mind. As always thanks for your feedback and comments.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Big Picture : Siege of Tenochtitlan

This weeks Big Picture comes from Salute in 2007. This amazing table depicts The Siege of Tenochtitlan, the fall of Mexico City in 1521. This demonstration game was run by The Escape Committee and featured a wide range of excellently painted 28mm figures.

Friday 15 April 2011

Panther vs Sherman

Like most Wargamers I find it hard to resist buying the occasional Osprey guide. The Duel series in particular are interesting because they compaire vehicles from a spcific combat or theatre of operations. I bought Panther vs Sherman:  Battle of the Bulge 1944 at the Cavalier show a few weeks ago and now that I have read it I consider it to have been worth every penny.

Like most Osprey's the book is well illustrated throughout with colour drawings and an interesting selection of Photographs. On of the things I liked about this book was the comparison of internal crew space between the turret of the Panther vs Sherman.

I find that when I read a history book that often one or two facts can leap out as so significant they stick in the mind long ofter you have moved on to another volume. This guide had many such facts in its pages as well as some unique and enlightening photographs. But for me the fact that stood out most came towards the end of the volume when discussing reliability as a key feature of the success or failure of these two iconic tanks.

By the end of the Battle of the Bulge as much as 55% of 'Operational' Panther's were sidelined due to mechnaical problems, while only 9% of Sherman's suffered similar reliability issues. Combined with the number of tanks available to each side - and the rate at which losses could be replaced - and the reader is left with a very clear picture of why the allies ultimately won the campaign to liberate Europe.

Author: Steven J Zaloga
Illustrators: Howard Gerrard & Jim Laurier
Duel Series: #13
Paperback: 80 pages
Published: Osprey (September 2008)

Wednesday 13 April 2011

Tank Battles of WWII - DVD Set

I've been watching a series of DVD's I got at Christmas called Tank Battles of World War Two. It's taken a while for me to watch these as needless to say nobody else in the house is that interested. However I have to say they are missing what is, in my humble opinion, a great series of historical programs.

This set consists of 6 DVD's each focusing on a different campaign or period of the war. The order of the DVD's is a little weird but the content is excellent with very little overlap between them. Here - in Chronological order - are the campaigns covered

(Disc 6) Blitzkrieg - The early creation of the Panzer Divisions and the development Blitzkrieg as a means of wageing war.
(Disc 3) The Fall of France - When Germany attacked France it faced arguably one of the largest and best equipped armies in Europe at that time. Its rapid destruction and defeat is as much a testament to the power of Blitzkrieg as it was to the ineptitude of French military doctrine at that time.
(Disc 1) Tigers in the Desert - The rise of Rommel and the advent of the Tiger Tank. Includes an intriguing reconstruction of a Tiger Crew in action.
(Disc 4) Barbarossa - The massive offensive to take Russia was a huge gamble and flew completely in the face of the idea of Lightning War. Here, on the wide open steppes of Russia, the limitations of Blitzkrieg were finally exposed.
(Disc 2) The Battle for Kursk -Operation Zitadelle was the huge German offensive designed to put Russia out of the war. Instead this became a killing ground that saw the ascendancy of Russian armour and the beginning of the long retreat back to Germany.
(Disc 5) The Ardennes Offensive - A last desperate gamble against the allies in the West

Throughout the series various experts are called upon for their analysis and insight. These include David Fletcher of the Royal Tank Museum; German army veteran Gerry Majewski; Author and historian Bob Carruthers; Dr Robin Clifton of Warwick University; Dr Niall Barr of the Royal Military Academy at Sandhurst; and Professor John Erickson from the University of Edinburgh.

Over the course of these 6 DVD's the whole sweep of the war - from an armoured perspective - is discussed and analysed. One of the things I liked about these programmes was the fact that you get 300 minutes of documentary with virtually no repetition or overlap of information. The quality of the research and breadth of information covered is huge and presented in a very interesting and logical way.

If you have in interest in the development and use of the Tank as a weapon of war then I think these programmes will definitely interest you. I also think most WWII wargamers would also find the content useful, particularly where colour film and original footage is used.

Monday 11 April 2011

Gamers OCD

I've decided my wife is right, all gamers do have a touch of OCD in their makeup. It wouldn't be the first time the label obsessive has been leveled at me but I think this time I'm going to have to reluctantly agree with my 'significant other'. And it all starts with a simple cardboard box. Let me explain....

Once upon a time I was a normal person with normal hobbies. This was way back in the mists of time when I was still a fluffy chinned adolescent and didn't know what I wanted to do with my life. Then one of my friends gave me a copy of a Fighting Fantasy game book and things took a new route. Ever since then I have thrown myself into whatever game I have been playing at the time. I dread to think how much money I have spent over the years but one thing that has consistently sucked on my meager financial resources has been storage. I like storage. Boxes of all sizes and shapes, often with specially cut foam inserts or little trays designed to hold my mini's. And all neatly segregated, labeled and categorized...

Every new game brought with it a new storage system. I had a special bag for my original D&D stuff; a set of multi-drawer boxes for my WH40 Epic miniatures; Dozens of plastic boxes for each set of CCG's I owned (plus a special one for the current deck!); and now several metal model cases for my Flames of War miniatures. The latest time-suck comes in the form of low profile cardboard boxes specifically for holding flat items of wargaming terrain. I have two large plastic boxes will all my 15mm terrain and within each are several smaller boxes to 'protect' my precious models.

Of course this all begs the question, what the hell am I protecting everything from? My current collection could withstand a direct hit from a nuclear bomb given the amount of storage they are kept in. Come the Zombie-Apocalypse I'm hiding in my terrain boxes!

I had everything out last week in an attempt to make some space in my bedroom (I was getting 'the stare' from my long suffering wife) and all that happened was I spent two hours reorganizing my boxes into an even bigger space. The missus came and checked on my progress as I was packing everything away and - in a moment of insanity - I mumbled something about needing some new foam for the next set of tanks I'm working on. The silence was deafening and I could feel the hair on the back of my head being vaporised by 'the stare'. "Your obsessed!" she said in that half mocking, half amused tone she uses when referring to my hobby. I looked back blankly, "Yes dear, I'm a gamer".

Sunday 10 April 2011

Big Picture : Early Developer!

I'm finishing of the week with another dose of nostalgia. When I came across this photo a few days ago I couldn't help chuckling and thinking "I must put this on my blog". The year is about 1984 and this is ME (before I became BigLee obviously) preparing for a D&D game. I'm not sure what shocks me more, the wallpaper or the fact that I have a full head of hair!

The picture was actually a posed shot, taken by myself using a timer. I was preparing for a game and decided to stop and get a picture of myself. But after I saw the photo I thought it was a silly idea because it felt 'staged'. Now I look at it and think "OK this was 'set up' but its also the only picture I have of my early passion for games" and in that respect I think its actually an important photo. I'm glad I took the picture because unlike today, when everyone at a game is shooting pictures, back then we rarely thought to record our games for posterity.

Friday 8 April 2011

Lyme Regis here I come!

The kids break up for the Easter Holiday today and tomorrow we are driving down to Lyme Regis in Dorset for a weeks vacation. As usual I won't have access to the internet for the week I'm on holiday. Aside from the fact that we are staying miles from the nearest internet hot-spot, I probably won't have the time (or the energy) to do much writing. However I do have a plan. I have prepared several posts for the coming week and post-dated them to maintain the regular schedule while I'm away. So hopefully you shouldn't notice much difference at BLMA. However there will be one change while I'm away and I'm quite excited about it.

I recently reactivated my old Twitter account and I'm using it exclusively to tweet about painting and gaming related items. Basically if I would write about it here on BLMA then I'll also be tweeting about it on @BigLee. And while I'm exploring Dorset and Devon I'll try to keep the 'twitterverse' updated with anything interesting I discover. You'll be able to follow what I'm up to either on twitter or by coming here to BLMA where I've put a Feed at the top of the site. If this proves to be a popular feature I may keep it permanently, but for now the imminent holiday is as good a time to test it as any.

We are not beach people on the whole (If I lay on a beach, Greenpeace come along and try to drag me back out to sea) and we certainly can't sit by a pool and 'vegetate'. We tend to squeeze in a lot of museums and culture into our UK holidays - much to the annoyance of the kids! This year will be no exception with the Tank Museum at Bovington high on my hit list. In fact I have been promised a visit to Bovington as a consolation prize because I will unfortunately be missing Salute at Excel.

I'm looking forward to seeing everyones pictures from the show and I'm sure I'll be green with envy for a month afterwards! On the plus side I'm hoping to come home from holiday with a load of interesting pictures of my own to put on the site. Sorry folks, more photo's of tanks!

Thursday 7 April 2011

Mutually Assured Destruction

Yesterday I went to Fawley near Southampton to visit one of my companies offices. The office itself is based inside an Oil Refinery, right on the end of a jetty sticking out into the Solent. Fortunately the weather was nice and sunny but I can imagine it would be a grim place to work in the middle of Winter. Needless to say I was very busy (you know, actually doing some work for a change) so didn't have time for anything hobby related. However there was one little interlude that stopped everyone in their tracks - as one of Britain's nuclear Submarines slipped by the end of the jetty, just a few hundred yards away.

Britain has four Vanguard Class submarines - Vanguard, Victorious, Vigilant, and Vengeance -  built at Barrow-in-Furness by Vickers Shipbuilding. Each vessel is theoretically armed with up to 16 Trident II Submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Each missile is capable of carrying 12 warheads although the START I treaty reduced this to 8 and the SORT Treaty reduced it again to 4 or 5. Even so that means each sub potentially contains 48+ warheads. Warheads come in different sizes (like shoes) with the smallest being a mere 100 kilotons! The Bomb dropped on Hiroshima - innocuously named Little Boy - had a yield of between 13-18 kilotons.

So with a quick bit of rough and ready mental maths that means the sub that slipped silently past us in the spring sunshine potentially contained the nuclear capability to replicate Hiroshima 266 times!!! And that's assuming it had the smaller 100kt warheads, the larger ones have a yeild of 475 kilotons each... Gulp!

That's one conflict I definately don't want to wargame.

Wednesday 6 April 2011

Revisiting Warhammer Fantasy Battles

I try to keep all the main rulebooks I buy, even after I stop playing a particular rule set. I don't keep the supplements and additional rulebooks but I do like to keep the original core rulebooks. This is the case with Warhammer Fantasy Battles. I played this when I was still a student (back when my mates and I still had time/money on our side) and kept the book long after we moved on to other games.

My copy of the rulebook was bought for me by my future wife for Christmas 1989 (that's what the inscription says inside the cover). I knew I was onto a winner with this girl because she bought presents I actually wanted for Christmas - as opposed to cloths that didn't fit or were so ugly they frightened small children and animals. Twenty Two years later and she's still buying me toys so I guess I'm pretty lucky.

As far as I know I have only one picture from those early days of wargaming and now I look back and curse myself for not taking more photos. This picture shows a clash between my Undead Army and a Dwarven Army. We used green carpet tiles as our game surface, and played on the floor because we didn't have a big enough table. There's a distinct lack of terrain being used and what little I can see seems to be around the edges for some strange reason. Looking back on these games I don't feel so bad about the standard and amount of terrain I'm using today.

Scanning through the rulebook I found myself immersed in the artwork once again. Much of its not quite up to the standard and presentation of rulebooks today but even so it's evocative and exciting and I can easily understand why we were all hooked on these rules for years. Sadly we moved away from WHFB. One of the reasons was the lack of space and the fact that none of us could paint fast enough to field a whole army. So we eventually moved on to Warhammer 40K Epic and 6mm wargaming. The terrain got better, a greater percentage of our forces were painted and we were able to move the game off the floor and onto a table. Heady days indeed!

Even Epic eventually got left behind. Finding the time and the money to field large armies proved too much and as a group we moved on to other games before going full circle and restarted playing D&D, the game that made gamers of us all. Now of course I have resumed wargaming, collecting and painting my Flames of War forces and playing other rules systems and scales with Posties Rejects. Maybe I can get the Dagenham Dungeon Delvers back into wargaming as well. Only this time I'll be supplying all the painted miniatures, the terrain will be much much better and we won't be playing on the floor like a bunch of middle aged Rugrats!

Monday 4 April 2011

Playing the OLD red box

It's never too early to introduce your kids to the games we play. Both my girls have grown up with their 'old mans' strange obsession with toy soldiers, but both have also painted miniatures and played games themselves. I might not have made lifelong gamers out of them but hopefully they have a better understanding of the hobby than regular folk.

This weekend I decided to run a quick and easy D&D game with my youngest daughter - or my Padawan Learner as I like to refer to her. She's six and has reached the age where she will sit down and play a game properly (she plays a mean game of Zombies). So instead of rushing out and buying Wizards of the Coasts new red box I dug out my old original game. These were the self same books I first learned to play D&D with nearly three decades ago (god I feel old).

I set up a straightforward dungeon based monster bash. It featured a simple objective (retrieve the magic gem) and a series of easy encounters with various archetype monsters and traps. I didn't want to focus too heavily on the rules - she is only 6 after all - instead concentrating on the collaborative storytelling and problem solving side of the game... just how it was designed to be.

She seemed to enjoy herself although I realize that that doesn't necessarily equate to her becoming a lifelong D&D player. However we both had a lot of fun and that ultimately is the main objective of any game. 

Sunday 3 April 2011

Big Picture : Airborne

This reenactment group is dedicated to the British 1st Airborne division from 1944-45. This was taken at the Royal Gunpowder Mills in May 2007. As well as an excellent battle reenactment there was also a fantastic flyover display by the Grace Spitfire

Friday 1 April 2011

April Poll - Table size

Here's a question for all you wargamers out there. What size is your games table of choice? I'm not asking what you like to play on if you had the space or if you had the money etc. What size table do you most often use to wargame on? I suppose a supplementary question would be "where is that table?" because I expect larger tables might be available at clubs or wargame venues and conventions. But for now lets just focus on the size table you most often use right now, either in your own home or at a friends house or at a club.

I had a quick scan of various forums and come up with a shortlist of 'standard' sizes although of course there is no such thing as standard any more. Last year for example I saw a skirmish level wargame being played on a circular table! And many gamers (myself included) have to make do with dining tables that were not designed with standard wargame sizes in mind. I'm thinking of building a 6x4 cover for my dining table for instance, but other wargamers would consider this way too small. Posties Rejects (the group I occasionally game with in Gravesend) play on a massive table, something like 8x14 (Fran, correct me if I'm wrong).

What are your thoughts on this, whats your table size? And if given free reign, and unlimited space, what table size would represent Nirvana for you?