Sunday 30 August 2020

Learning New Rules

So what's the easiest way for you to learn a new set of rules? Personally, I've never been one to be able to sit and read a whole set of rules cover to cover. No matter how interested I am I find it hard to focus when just reading. I’ve always been like this, and way back in the mists of time, when I was at University, I instinctively sought out alternative ways to study, rather than just reading textbooks. Friday's episode of The Quarantined Wargamer explores the subject of how we learn new rules and suggests some techniques for getting those pesky facts embedded in our grey matter. 

We all have different ways of absorbing new information, and I certainly don't have all the answers. So what are your tips and tricks for learning new rulesets? I'd love to hear from you, either in the comments below on my YouTube Channel. If you like enjoy the video please hit the Like button and consider subscribing to my channel. 

Next week I'll be talking about why we should Encourage rather than Criticise those starting out in our hobby. 

Wednesday 26 August 2020

Wheat-fields for Wargaming

Once again I am revisiting a subject I have touched on several times before. I have made wheat fields on a number of occasions and have utilised the traditional materials of hessian matting and teddy bear fur. However, as with my ploughed fields, the finished products never quite looked right and were usually too small for my needs. So I bought a couple of square meters of fur fabric and set about making a new collection of versatile and cheap wheat fields for use with 15mm and 28mm scales. The only work I did on these was to give the rather shiney synthetic fur a dusting of light beige spray paint (I used a car paint from Halfords). It has to be applied sparingly or the fibres clump together and don't look right. 

There's nothing particularly innovative about this project, many wargamers have made use of 'Teddy Bear Fur' for fields before, including myself. Their use largely depends on your own personal aesthetic. Some people don't like the wavey look of fur and prefer the look of coconut matting. Some, like me, prefer fields where troops and vehicles don't float across the top of the wheat when they pass through. This is one of my main reasons for not wanting to use this material, but also that the fur fields are much lighter and flexible so they can be folded around the edges of the battlefield if, like me, you have a smaller table. 

One thing to note is that modern wheatfields are not the same as those seen in the early part of the 20th Century or earlier. The wheat seen in a modern filed is a very long way from the wild variety first cultivated by humans 10,000 years ago in what is now southeastern Turkey. Ancient species were very tall, averaging about 160cm or well over 5ft tall. By the early 19th Century, Wheat was the most significant cereal crop grown in Britain but it wasn't until the mid-1800's that the first plant breeders started to produce single varieties that gave higher yields by selectively breeding the best ears from their crops. These plants were shorter than the ancient variety, standing about 130cm's tall. 

Fast forward 50 years and by WWI a hardy wheat variety called Yeoman was becoming prevalent in Britain and its crops stood about 110cm tall. The next big change occurred in the 1980s with varieties like Skyfall developed specifically to service the demand for white sliced bread. However, this relied on the use of liquid fertilisers to increase yields increasing the need for shorter plants which were less likely to fall over. Modern wheat is typically only about 60-70cm tall, less than half the height of the ancient variety. 

The reason I have presented this short (and rather dull) potted history of wheat is that the 'look' of a wheatfield will have changed over time. The further back in time we go, the taller the wheat and the more likely it is to be affected by the wind resulting in a rippled and wavey surface -  like the fur fields. Modern wheat on the other hand probably does look very much like the coconut matting seen on many games tables, because it is short with stocky stems capable of holding up larger seed heads. It doesn't (in my mind) look anything like the wheat typically seen as little a 100 years ago. 

Sunday 23 August 2020

On the Road Again

My family and I like to get out and about, and most weekend we can normally be found heading towards a Museum, Living History Event or Historic Building. However, in the UK a certain pesky virus stopped all that back in March. Since then, like everyone else, we've been confined to the house at the weekend. All that enforced 'free time' had to go somewhere and I channelled it into The Quarantined Wargamer videos I have been putting on my YouTube Channel. I never thought it would be five months before we finally got to visit another museum, but with Pubs prioritised over Museums (and schools) many of our favourite locations have only recently reopened their doors to the public. This week we finally got out of the house and have visited three museums (!) and while we were at one of them I made a little video to mark the occasion. 

Rest assured this isn't the end of The Quarantined Wargamer. Sadly the risk from COVID-19 is a long way from being eradicated, and no-one knows if local lockdowns and other restrictions could be reimposed. So we are trying to make the most of it while we can, deliberately picking locations where we can enjoy some history, socially distanced from the hoards visiting beaches (and pubs). 

Anyway, I hope you enjoy the video. Next week I will be back in the Operations Room, and I'll be talking about how we learn new rules. Until then, stay safe and keep rolling high!

Wednesday 19 August 2020

Ploughed Field Terrain

Over the years I have made a lot of custom terrain and repeatedly return to the need for fields and crops for use in different periods and scales. Last year I made some small fields using thin MDF and brown plumbers caulk. They looked quite good but I have since found that their small size, and rigid nature, makes using them difficult, especially on my small table. I started toying with the idea of making some larger, more flexible fields a long time ago, but I have finally got round to making some ploughed fields using brown corduroy fabric as my base material. 

The fabric I bought came on a 1.5m wide roll so a 1m offcut gave me enough material to make 20 reasonably large fields for my games, more than enough to cover my modest games table, but also suitable for bigger games at Reject HQ. 

Once cut to size the fields were given a simple three-step makeover to finish them:

  • Although the material was called chocolate brown it had a bit of a purple undertone to it so I sprayed all the fields using Amy Painter Leather Brown. 
  • When this dried I gave the ridges a very light drybrush of sandstone from a tester pot of household emulsion paint. This has to be done sparingly, just enough to highlight the ridges. Try not to be too even with this, it looks better if some areas are lighter than others because real ground is rarely even and monotone when you look at it. Slight depressions will look darker than better-drained lumps and bumps. 
  • Then I added a few turf patches to some of the ridges. This looks a bit like grass growing in patches on the untended field. I used a large flat brush to apply the PVA to the ridges, using a very light drybrush-like stroke to get the PVA only on the ridges. The turf I then scattered on only adhered lightly and, after shaking, only a little bit remained glued in place. The result looks like sparse weeds growing in areas of deeper soil, or where the drainage is better. 
Additional details could be added, like patches of flowers or actual plants, but I wanted these to be simple. The only 'special effect I went for was one field where I added a hint of a crop ring in the field. 

I need to thank fellow Reject, Ray (Don't Throw a One) who helped with the colour and suggested the weeds which make these look so much better. Cheers, ol' fella! 

Sunday 16 August 2020

Ditch the Army List

I have been spending a lot of time during lockdown playing solo wargames and small scale test games across a range of periods and rulesets. The common denominator has been that I haven't abided by the army lists and often the 'sides' were wildly asymmetrical. And the result has been some really interesting min games that have left me asking, why aren't we doing this more often? The latest episode of The Quarantined Wargamer aired on Friday and I'd love to hear what you think on this subject.

As always I hope you enjoy the video, and if you do please consider hitting the Like button and subscribing to my channel. And of course, I'd like to hear what you think so please leave your comments either here or on my channel. 

This coming Friday sees The Quarantined Wargamers first 'outside broadcast'! Until then, stay safe and keep rolling high!

Wednesday 12 August 2020

RAF Relics in Hornchurch Country Park

Anyone that follows my blog knows that I visit a lot of museums and living history events. Like everything else, these have either been closed or cancelled and with Posties Rejects unable to have any games this has meant that my weekends have been a bit empty! Part of my reason for doing the Quarantined Wargamer videos has been to keep me occupied when I would otherwise be out and about. As social distancing rules have been eased in England, combined with some decent weather, we have been trying to get out for some much-needed exercise. Unlike tens of thousands of people, we knew the coast would be packed (social distancing be damned apparently) so instead, we stayed away from the crowds by visiting Hornchurch Country Park. 

We have visited quite a few local country parks over the last couple of months and aside from a handful of dog walkers and a few family groups, these have been largely empty. We'd be forgiven for thinking the nation had hollowed itself out as everyone and their granny headed for the coastal edges of our little island! I live in a London Suburb and as any fellow urbanite will tell you, it's never quiet. We are fortunate to have a garden to relax in when the weather is good, but its not a place for peace and quiet. Although all the country parks we have been too are within the M25 (for non-UK readers, that's the orbital motorway that effectively encircles Greater London) they are blissfully tranquil compared to my back yard. And Hornchurch Country Park has a little extra to entice me because it was once the site of RAF Hornchurch. 

The Airfield at Hornchurch first saw service in WWI until it was decommissioned in 1919. It had a new lease of life in 1928 when it reopened as RAF Hornchurch. Unfortunately pretty much all of the WWI structures were levelled when the site reopened so the remaining archaeology is mostly from WW2. The squadrons based here got their first real taste of war during the Dunkirk evacuations as they flew sorties to protect the ships. 28 Aircrew lost their lives in this mission. The next test was the Battle of Britain, as the RAF across the South East of England sought to defend Britain from the might of the Luftwaffe. Control of the skies was vital if the Germans were to launch their invasion (Operations Sealion) but after heavy air losses, they abandoned the plan. RAF Hornchurch was literally in the Front line for this crucial battle and its not hyperbole to say that if they had failed, and the invasion had taken place, the war would have taken a longer and much darker turn. 

A Type 28 PillBox - one of several guarding the Eastern Perimeter of the site overlooking the Ingreborne river valley.
A Type 28 PillBox - one of several guarding the Eastern Perimeter of the site overlooking the Ingreborne river valley.

The site has plenty of visible archaeology including several Type 22 Pill Boxes, some very rare Tett Turrets and the remains of at least two fighter E pens, one of which surrounds the car park! There is also a small museum in the visitor centre but we avoided that because it was a little crowded. I' sure we will be back here again pretty soon and if it's not too busy I'll try and get a look at the museum. 

Despite modern Grafitti its a well-preserved relic of the period. 

One of a number of Tett Turrets. These were one-man Machine Gun posts. Some of these were linked by communication trenches. 

Another type 22 pillbox. 

This version had an underground entrance. 

The purpose of our afternoon out was to get some exercise but the added bonus of exploring a little bit of history at the same time made this a great - and much needed - trip out. My wife and daughter were quite amused at how excited I got when we parked up and I realised we were in an E Pen, and later when I would go running off into the scrub to explore an abandoned Pill Box. Incidentally if your interested check out this website which includes some interesting information and links about the site. And it's also worth watching the Two Men in a Trench episode from 2004 (available on the BBC Archive) when Dr Tony Pollard and Neil Oliver visited the site and dug some of the archaeology. 

Sunday 9 August 2020

Demo Game Signage

Way back in 2009 I wrote a post for this Blog about demo tables at shows and in particular the lack of information for visitors and sometimes the lack of interaction between exhibitors and show attendees. Since then I have had the pleasure of contributing to three demo games in conjunction with Posties Rejects at the Broadside show (in 2012 and 2013 and again in 2014). Looking back at that article I'm glad to say that the quality of information and interaction at shows seems to have improved immensely. However, I thought it a subject worthy of revisiting and the latest episode of The Quarantined Wargamer looks back at that earlier article and explains what sort of information I like to see accompanying a demo game at shows. 

Fortunately, things seem to be improving year on year as more clubs and groups respond to the needs of their audience. But what do you like to see accompany a demo table? I've given you my list, but what sort of information do you look for when you visit a well laid out demo game at a show? 

As always I hope you enjoy the video, and if you do please consider hitting the Like button and subscribing to my channel. And of course, I'd like to hear what you think so please leave your comments either here or on my youtube channel. Next week I'm asking the question, is it time we ditched the army list? Until then, stay safe and keep rolling high! 

Wednesday 5 August 2020

US M2 Flamethrower Team

This week I finished another support team for my US forces in Chain of Command. The M2 Flamethrower is both a terrible and terribly effective weapon when used against fixed fortified positions like bunkers or pillboxes. Its effectiveness is all the more surprising given that the US didn't start the war with any flamethrower weapons in its arsenal. Instead, they threw together a temporary weapon (it took just 90 days to go from design phase to production), but even before it was issued to troops, plans were already afoot to build its successor. The Army then went out and acquired examples of German, French and British equipment and designed something better ('better' is a matter of perspective, given these are designed to burn people to death!).

The resulting weapon, the M2 went into production in early 1944 and saw service through the rest of WW2, into Korea (where it became the M2A1) and even saw service in Vietnam. When filled, it weighed 70lb and held 4.75 gallons of fuel providing about 6-7 seconds of firing time. When using liquid fuel it's effective range was about 20 yards, but when filled with a gelled fuel (napalm basically) its range was doubled to 40 yards. 

The unit is made up of a backpack and a gun attached by a pressurised hose. The backpack consists of three tanks. The two larger ones contain the fuel (filled from the valves at the top) while the smaller tank contained compressed Nitrogen at 1500psi which pressurised the whole system to about 300psi via a regulator valve at the bottom. If the valve failed for any reason, there was a pressure release valve, which in the M2 consisted of a small valve and tube assembly on top of one of the fuel tanks. The later M2A1 moved this to a less exposed location at the bottom of the unit but both versions were designed to release pressure (and fuel) safely away from the operator. The harness also had a quick release buckle so the unit could be dumped quickly in an emergency. 

The Gun part of the unit was connected to the tanks by a multi-layered high-pressure hose. The Gun itself consisted of two triggers. The rear one was a handle grip trigger that realised the pressurised fuel into the gun and opened the valve at the front allowing the fuel to be released towards the target. The Forward trigger (which looks like a regular trigger) ignited the fuel. Hollywood flamethrowers often have electrical arcs igniting the fuel but these don't work very well in damp conditions and not at all when the battery dies. The M2, however, used a cartridge of five mini flares, each of which would burn for a few seconds. This means the operator had a maximum of 5 'shots' with the M2 with a combined maximum of 6-7 seconds of fuel capacity. 

Later in the war, the use of armoured flamethrowers like the Crocodile made the use of man-packed weapons less prevalent in Europe, however, they continued to be effective in Jungle fighting against the Japanese. Eventually, all flamethrowers (indeed the use of all incendiaries against people) were banned by Protocol III of the Geneva Convention, but this did not come into effect until 2005! As I said earlier a terrible weapon, but also a terribly effective one which is why pretty much everyone had variations of these in their arsenals. 

Sunday 2 August 2020

The Importance of keeping Notes

I have always kept a notebook close to hand, a habit I developed as a student at University. Thirty years later and nothing has changed except that now I keep notes on my hobby activities rather than my studies. Time and again I have found them invaluable, particularly when painting and returning to a project, months or even years later. The latest episode of The Quarantined Wargamer discussed why I keep notes and how I have found them so useful. Times are changing and now I also keep notes electronically (on my phone) but I always have a paper notebook and pencil close to hand. 

As usual, I'd ask that if you enjoy the video please hit the like button, consider subscribing to my channel and of course join the conversation by commenting either here or on YouTube. Next week I'm going to talk about show or convention demo games and in the process, I hope to show a load of pictures of some wonderful looking games.