David Bickley's Wargames Blog

The occasional ramblings of an average gamer, journeyman painter, indifferent modeller, games designer, sometime writer for Wargames Illustrated and host of games in GHQ.

Thursday 30 July 2015

Strike up the band!

I have added a French band to my Wars of the French Revolution collection. They are figures from Trent Miniatures of course, although I changed several of the heads for ones wearing the bicorne, the originals were too exotic for my taste ~

The gap in the base is left for a missing mould figure, the Jingling Johnnie. If Duncan can't locate it then I'll convert it to a muddy puddle! The detail on many of the figures has proved to be a little soft for my eyesight, but as a group I think they will look alright on the table top. I really liked the Drum Major, very imposing chap I think ~

Another view of the whole band from the opposite angle ~

Some other bits and bobs that I've completed for the project this month. An Austrian Hungarian command base, even though I've got no Hungarian infantry yet ~

An ADC from the French 2nd Hussars ~

Finally, the WI free subscription figure which I was kindly given by Dan at May's Partizan ~

At present now I'm painting some Foundry Late Roman cataphracts and then moving on to some Foundry early Austrian Grenz infantry, but I'm off to Claymore tomorrow, so no more painting until next month!

Friday 24 July 2015

A means to an end...

...or an end in its own right? I've been giving much thought recently to painting figures. The reason? Well, the arthritis in my hands shows no sign of easing and sometimes I have just had to give up because of the low level discomfort, can't really call it pain yet. My musings were then greased by a thread on the Lead Adventures Forum where the level of angst being displayed by a couple of folk over painting figures gave me further pause for thought about our hobby. Lets be clear about this: they were wargamers primarily by their own reckoning but they were agonising over the standard of their painting. In one case, the level of processes could only leave you wondering what he thought the point of it all was? In the other, it was driven by a desire to paint a particular new range, rather than to game the period, I thought. So, I offer an unvarnished opinion on this phenomenon, the 'Rise of the Painting Fascist' I'll call it.
I've been actively wargaming since 1973, when I joined the Alumwell Wargames Society as we lived in Walsall at the time. Since that time I've sampled pretty much every genre, period and fad, not to mention several scales, before settling on 28mm in the main. I've owned numerous armies which I've sold on until arriving at my present condition with my modest collection housed in its own gaming room. I ought to be content, yet I find that I'm not. Partly this is the recognition that time is ever rolling on and part is that curse of almost every gamer I've met, the siren call of the new product or period. Of course, the internet and modern glossy hobby magazines are really the driver of this hobby malaise. Ever since Duncan fronted the magazines which contained high resolution pictures and quality painted figures the cat has been out of the bag. Once the internet got into its stride, and blogging took off within its confines, the average gamer is just a click or a magazine page away from stuff which may inspire him or her on to greater efforts, or simply depress them about their own inadequacies. I've always thought that wargaming should be spectacular, but mostly in the early days that was limited to multiplayer club games when large tables and vast numbers of figures could be deployed. On club nights it was a green cloth, some felt cut outs and bog brush trees and buildings from Airfix or Superquick which may, or may not, have been appropriate for the game!
The hobby has expanded exponentially since those early days with more and more firms starting up to produce not only figures but all aspects of terrain you could possibly want, but at a price of course. Card buildings, resin buildings, now MDF buildings abound in every period and scale you could dream of it seems. So much so that the hobby seems at times to be more and more an off the shelf construct, even more so now with the plethora of  the 'Games in a Box' and their 50 figure 'Armies'. With all that is so readily available even a modest budget can produce a table that is a joy to see or play across, but that still leaves the figures of course with the associated 'need' to paint them to collectors' standards!
Now, my own painting is alright I'm told by folk, but its not amongst the top notch stuff which you see on many sites in the blogosphere or in magazines. I simply don't worry too much now if it looks rough around the edges compared to others. I'm a wargamer who paints, not a painter who occasionally wargames after all! Took a while to come to terms with this, but there it is. In a game my figures are viewed from several feet away mostly so now I paint to satisfy myself within those parameters. But the malign influence of the painting fascists, with their ever increasing number of layers, nuances of colour, and even different varnish for different surfaces, still lurks everywhere in our hobby and it takes some courage for folk who belong to a club to turn up for a game with block painted figures and pink blobs for faces! But, with decent bases, allied with the lovely flags you can buy, what's the difference once everything is on the table? Not a lot I'm inclined to say. Of course, that's easy to say when your figures don't leave your own table, as mine don't now a days, but I do enjoy sharing them on the net with interested folk. After all, if my modest efforts are not ridiculed, then it may just encourage someone else to stay with their own hobby and worry less about the way their figures are painted!
My own approach to painting 28mm figures now is limited to faces,bases and flags mainly. As a species we are hardwired to remember faces, so of course that extends to the little chaps too. If I can see the sculptor has made the effort to model eyes in detail I paint them in while I still can, but where they haven't I don't bother any more. Can you see that on the table? Of course not, but I enjoy doing it. Faces get three stages of flesh basecoat, medium flesh and then highlights, although at least two collections have flesh wash over a light flesh colour and small highlights of the original colour afterwards. Only muskets and horses get the same approach now, every thing else is a base colour and a highlight. So far no one has tried to burn me for it! For example ~

Three Trent Miniatures generals, meant for the Royalist rising in the Vendee, but repurposed for my games as Revolutionary types with a bit of painting and imagination in repurposing features modelled on. Allied to a bit of an effort with washing the bases, adding some static grass and some clumps of vegetation I think they look the part. The thing is though, even at that magnification compared to the game setting can you clearly see which parts I scrimped over? I know I can't if I'm honest with you. However, I'm not knocking anyone who does enjoy painting to collector's standards, after all its their hobby as well as mine, but I do think that we Average Joe's need to stop worrying about what our figures look like compared to the best you see and just enjoy what we do. If anyone does comment adversely, my father used to say, put it down to their ignorance and carry on in your own sweet way! That extends to our tables of course. You see some marvellous scratch built stuff around, but if I'm building I'm not painting and there's the rub: I know which I'm better at and which I enjoy more, so I buy most of my stuff as and when the budget allows, and it has to do for many different theatres of operations too! I still like the look of my table, even though other folks' creativity made it possible. Take this D Day games recently played out here in GHQ ~

Every single item of scenery is commercially made, and most of it came ready painted and based too. The naval elements from Britannia; the beach obstacles from Battlefront; the sea wall from Grubby Tanks, the buildings from Sentry Models, the trees, walls and hedges from The Last Valley and so on. Even the sea and beach boards are a commercial mat product, simply cut up and stuck to MDF bases, hardly scratch building is it? The look of the game satisfies me and my gaming chums, in truth do you even notice the figures?
So, rambling and/or ranting is at an end. Paint to satisfy yourself and stuff the others! But do have as nice a looking table as you can within your own physical and financial constraints and your games will stand along the best you see when once its all on your table. The button counters and lace freaks can sweat over their stuff as long as they like, it won't do any good once your chaps get stuck into them you'll find!

Monday 13 July 2015

Dawn of Destiny

Some shots from a very recent RAPID FIRE! game here in GHQ between Phil, as the British attackers, and myself, as the German defenders of the Atlantic Wall. The opening scene ~
6' x 6'6" tabletop

German fire control bunker

105mm battery in action

German forward field hospital was kept busy

German forward command in the coastal town coordinated the defence


The first assault wave comes ashore!

Despite high losses the defensive line is breached!

The second assault wave arrives on the beaches.

The DD tanks are off the beach with infantry in close support.

The third wave sees self propelled artillery ashore.

Limited German counter attack threatens the beachhead!

The German defences finally collapse in Turn 8! The Beachhead is secured.

The game lasted some eight turns over three hours, with a welcome break for lunch of course during proceedings. The German defence was not helped by very wayward artillery fire and very poor anti tank fire from the fixed positions ~ the dice did not love either of us actually when I look back. Once the British tanks and infantry supports were off the beach the Germans were really up against it, loosing their supporting anti tank capacity early on and being unable to establish radio contact with the 105mm battery at a crucial juncture. Never the less, a grand game which we both enjoyed to the full.
The figures, terrain, scenic effects and buildings are all from my collection. The 20mm figures and vehicles are from many sources: Britannia, Hinchliffe, SHQ, FAA,AB Miniatures,and Grubby Tanks to name a few I can recall. I can say that I painted all the vehicles and figures back in the day, but Colin Rumford painted the buildings for me and made up the scenic bases for them. The vegetation is from The Last Valley of course. Jon will be along later in the week I hope for a second bite at the game, although the layout will change slightly before then of course to keep it fresh.

Sunday 5 July 2015

"The Bradshaw, Watson, there's not a moment to loose!"

Sue and I were in the local Garden Centre having lunch today and after our meal we went for a wander to see what was on offer, in my case for any of my projects in GHQ that need additions ~ that's all of them really of course! I'd been reading on LAF about trains in wargames and had remembered some toy trains I'd seen in other Garden Centres and Charity shops and wondered if our local facility had any...

In fact there are two types: the 4-4-0 with coal tender and the 0-4-0 Tank Engine. They look vaguely British/Continental to me I have to say but at £5.99 a box I thought them worth a punt.

As you can see they make up a decent sized train for our games and, as I'm not too fussy either, over a wide range of periods I think. The train and carriages are slightly wider than the 00 gauge flexitrack I have, but I don't mind that; they don't have to run anywhere on their own after all. I'll leave that to the layout in the loft, at least for now. The figures you can see are Pulp Figures 28mm. A couple of closer shots ~

28mm figures for scale - they fit the cab even!

With 'Fat Controller'!

Now, many of you in my situation might be tempted into all sorts of repainting and kit bashing, but not me. Why, you ask? Well, I no longer take games to shows, as I said recently, and this will do for me just fine as it is, although the track will be based on MDF when Phil has a mo! I see it featuring in games in the 1940's Operation Zeelowe/Blandings setting,the VBCW in Wolverhampton and S Staffs, in Holmes games, in the Old West, since I'm not that fussy, and even in Rhanzlistan and points East! Purists will have a seizure, but,' its my game' as they say. Total cost? £17.99! Available in three colour schemes: green, red and blue to suit all tastes. Additional benefit: there's a spare engine for my grandsons to play with on the floor ~ they come with light and sound effects you see.  "Quickly now, Watson! If we hurry we can make the 4.55 slow service to Blandings Parva!"

Friday 3 July 2015

The army of Baldinus the Usurper

While the last post did n't attract much in the way of comment, ever the optimist, I thought that I'd post some pictures of the other half of my late C4th Roman collection. With the exception of the Huns, painted by Matt, and one minor command group which I painted, they were all painted for me by Andy Dumelow.
The figures are all from the Foundry ranges sculpted by the Perrys ~
Baldinus' army takes the field

Baldinus greets his generals

Auxilia and a bolt thrower

Warband or more Auxilia

Heavy Archers

Albinus commands the cavalry arm

Hun Allies, Heavy cavalry on the left, Light Cavalry on the right

I shall certainly be adding to my collection for this game as I enjoy Neil Thomas' rules from his Two Hour Wargames stable. We have used both the Classical stats and those for the Dark Ages in our games and enjoyed both types very much. I am prepared to accept the level of abstraction he works into them for the ease of play and the way games flow to a conclusion, often suddenly.

Wednesday 1 July 2015

The Triumph of Pompus Maximus

As we start the second half of the year basking in the sun, or taking refuge in the shade, depending on your approach to the heatwave we are experiencing I thought I would take a few minutes away from painting Early Saxon warriors to take stock of the year so far here in GHQ. I must say straight off that this year has been most remarkable for the final completion of the conversion of the garage into GHQ2, thanks to Martin my neighbour and friend these last 25 years or so. What was GHQ is now the master bedroom with an attached sitting room for TV and Radio, and for the deaf, reading! So, all of us are pleased by this development and I have gained both a bigger room, more storage, a bigger table and brownie points for our new bedroom! Win - Win there I think.
While gaming has been interrupted by several weeks away on various holiday jaunts, I see we have still played 23 games in the first six months of the year. Of these I won 10 and lost 9, the remaining 4 being draws. I'm still pretty average, so no change there. On the painting front I have completed 315 28mm figures, the vast majority for my Wars of the French Revolution project featuring mostly the Trent Miniatures range originally sculpted by Matt. Lately though, I've needed a break from this project to refresh my approach and avoid becoming casual and slapdash, so I've been painting up some units for my Late Roman Armies: of the Emperor Pompus Maximus and of the Pretender to the Purple, Baldinus, and the usurper, Albinus. Phil and I played a game with these on Monday last after we got back from our week's sojourn in Devon and Cornwall. While I did n't take any photos during the game I have taken a few since to showcase the collection for anyone who is passing by ~

The first picture shows my new unit of Heavy Infantry, the second a unit of Medium Infantry. I've moved to basing several collections now on large Impetus sized bases for ease of movement and reduction in damage during storage. It also gives you the opportunity to make the base more of a diorama to enhance the look of the games. We currently use Neil Thomas' "Two Hour Wargames" rules with heavy modification to suit our outlook for what are occasional outings in the late C4th, but may try Impetus later in the year for a change. To round things off I've taken a few shots of Pompus Maximus and his army taking the field for yet another triumph over Baldinus ~

When I first acquired these figures about 13 years ago now as the result of a modest inheritance I found myself unexpectedly demotivated to paint them, on reflection I was probably overwhelmed by the numbers I'd acquired all at once. I solved that by having about half of them painted for me by Andy Dumelow, while the other half I've slowly painted for myself over the last few years. I can now, almost, field an army for Pompus entirely painted by myself, leaving those Andy did for my opponents. I need to add a unit of Light Cavalry, some Light Archers, some Saxon archers or slingers, and finally a unit of cataphracts. Perhaps I'll pop over to Foundry during the summer and pick up at least some of these.
So far in 2015 I've managed to stay considerably under budget in my spending on new toys. Actually, quite a few purchases have been in the area of buildings and scenery ~ you can see the ones I got for the Ancient and Dark Age period in the pictures above by the way. They are from Caliver Books before anyone asks. Other purchases have mainly been for the ongoing Wars of the French Revolution games, mainly from Trent Miniatures of course, but also from Front Rank and from Foundry Miniatures; I've even branched out by buying a unit for the British Foot Guards from Riever Castings while I was at the Carronade show in May.
That leads me rather nicely to my last thoughts. I attend far fewer show now than I did say 10 years ago, for all sorts of reasons I expect, but one common factor has been my increasing boredom after I've done my shopping ~ where would we all be without our lists? In fact I did n't attend a Wargames show at all until May, when I went up to Carronade with Phil while we and our wives were on a short break in South Queensferry, and I marked my 65th birthday at the end of that month by attending Partizan in Newark. All sorts of factors must have combined to bring about my increasing disengagement in the events others so selflessly put on for us, but one has been my progressive hearing loss year on year. I am now functionally deaf in large crowds and find conversation even with family and friends stressful most of the time. I do make an effort, only sometimes I have to admit, but it is far from easy. Another reason might also be my advancing years. At Partizan I looked around and was somewhat concerned to note how few of the gamers in attendance I actually knew.  {On the plus side this must mean that the hobby is growing and going from strength to strength, which must be counted as a 'Good Thing'!} Of course, its easy on an intellectual level to accept that I have more years of wargaming behind me than ahead of me, but on an emotional level its more difficult to come to terms with one's own mortality. I have toyed with three new projects for 2016, but so far only one has resulted in new figures {and they are being painted for me by Phil} whilst two others have n't got beyond the drawing up of lists and the perusal of websites to view potential figures.
To avoid ending on too melancholy a note though, William, my middle grandson, shows real signs of interest even at 19 months. He sat happily, brush and figure in his little hands, at my painting desk yesterday, despite being covered in Chicken Pox poor mite! So, my son turned out to be first a wargamer, then a master painter and now also an accomplished figure designer and at least one grandson  has started out on the road so I think I have done my bit to further the hobby, along of course I might add with my many articles for Wargames Illustrated and a number of sets of wargames rules, which stil sell strongly I'm told. Perhaps scaling back all the planning of new games and collections and the painting of countless figures is an inevitable stage in the ageing wargamer's life. Only time will tell I fear... In the meantime, back to those Early Saxon warriors I mentioned at the beginning, or perhaps not?