Thursday, 30 December 2004
Fall of 1984 was also the year I enrolled as a freshman at the university (after some gruelling entry exams to get into the School of Engineering, oh, the memories of that event ;-)), so it meant I was ready for new things, and that meant fantasy roleplaying! It happened that that year, a Dutch FRP game was published, "Oog Des Meesters", a translation from the German "Das Schwarze Auge". D&D at the time was something I had heard about, but never had seen myself, so a Dutch roleplaying game was definitely a big sensation for my club of gaming friends.
During my years at the university I mostly played fantasy, not only roleplaying, but also miniature fantasy battles. By 1987 or so, GW had published their 3rd edition of Warhammer, and it was this version we were most addicted to. Warhammer 40K also was published during that period, and I slowly but surely was turning into a GW fanboy. I also bought my first blister pack of miniatures then, "Undead Orcs" from Grenadiers (I bought them in Rudi Geudens' shop). Those 3 skeletal Orcs are still part of my undead miniature army, and occupy a base of 4 figures, the 4th figure being a skeleton painted by Bart Vetters, which he donated to me because he "wasn't into fantasy".
In 1988 I met a couple of other gaming addicts in Leuven, which meant even more gaming! We quickly formed a gaming group, and the core of this group basically is still the same group of people I play many games with today. Anyway, I was much impressed by these guys, because they actually went to London to buy GW stuff! So quickly, I joined them on shopping sprees towards London, leaving with a small backpack, and returning with a kitbbag full of orders for the home crowd. This might look pretty silly now, but apart from the "Tin Soldier" in Sint-Niklaas (run by renowned veteran wargamer Rudi Geudens, Hi Rudi!, full story of the shop and a piece of Belgian wargaming history here), there wasn't really any gaming shop known to us, and London was the place to be to get all the newest roleplaying games, miniatures, accessories, etc.
That same year (1988), there was also a (first?) fantasy gaming convention run in Antwerp by Peter T'Sas, who was then just starting his shop in Antwerp "The Lonely Mountain". It was memorable for another reason, because at that convention, "Schimmen & Schaduwen", another Dutch roleplaying game, was first presented to the public. I wasn't involved in the development of S&S at that point, but three Leuven gamers were, under the name of "The Wise Tree". S&S was very much inspired by Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay, but since it was the first effort in Belgium for a Dutch FRP after OdM, it created a bit of a stir.
In any case, those were exciting times for me. I still don't know whether it was because gaming started to grow big in Belgium, and we were in the middle of it and experiencing it all, or whether gaming had been there all along, and we were just discovering it.
Bart Vetters, Vincent Mattelaer, and myself gathered in my gaming attic (which also saw the first game happening there), around my knee-height gaming table. I did prepare 2 scenarios from a wargame scenario book. The first one was a classic 'hold the ridge' attack and defence scenario, while the second was a break-out scenario. We also played a third battle, which was more an encounter-type battle.
We used the rules as I had written them up, but the game produced a few comments and thoughts on how to tweak the system. An updated document of the current rules can be found here.
One of the things we noticed is that the BC/M44 system is very much tuned towards ranged combat. Troops run around, seek a good spot, and try to fire on the enemy. In fantasy (or ancients for that matter), the emphasis is much more on close combat, and you sort of expect the 'frontline' to remain somewhat intact, at least during the intial stages of the battle. Instead, the games had a significant skirmish feel to them. Troops could run around, attacking foes on the side, or sometimes in the back. This is not a bad thing, but at least for me, it didn't quit satisfy me. The rules so far have no concept of flanks or rears for individual units, so a 'clever' charge in someone's rear does not give you any bonuses. This could be solved by giving the troops an orientation, but then it was felt this would overcomplicate an otherwise elegant and simple ruleset.
Skirmish games are not bad of course, but my hope is still to come up with a ruleset that can recreate in feeling and visual appeal famous fantasy battles such as Pellenor Fields or the Siege of Minas Tirith. I have a strong feeling it can be done with this engine, but some more playtests are necessary.
Bart took some pictures of the table, so I expect they will be available soon.
For those of you that are not versed in the wily ways of wargame rules, Medieval Warfare is a ruleset produced by Terry L. Gore, of [Saga](http://www.saga-publishing.com/), who among other things produce the excellent Saga magazine on medieval and dark age (or early medieval) history. Apart from Medieval Warfare, there is also Ancient Warfare, Renaissance Warfare, Victorian Warfare and a few other Warfares that have not been released yet (I even think I have a copy of Ancient Warfare in my rules bookshelf somewhere - I'll have to check). For the last couple of years (at least), the Foundry has apparently had plans to publish a version of these rules, polished up with (Foundry) miniature photos, painting and modelling guides, and generally the kind of 'fluff' one also gets in publications like [WAB](http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/WABlist) (not that there is anything wrong with that).
It seems that now, after only a few years of urging by Mr. Gore, Foundry is finally gearing up to a release of the rules. And that brings me to my point (_what, already?_). A couple of years ago, it seemed that Foundry was on the way of redefining its involvement in the hobby, orienting themselves more along the line of a business rather than a hobby venture, following in the footsteps of the ten pound gorilla of the miniatures hobby, [Games Workshop](http://uk.games-workshop.com). Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, they messed it up quite a bit, loosing some of their major sculptors (the Perries, Mark Copplestone) and quite a lot of their karma with the general wargames public.
Even though their figures remain some of the best in the hobby (although with a lot less of a lead, if any, than five years ago), some of their decisions with regards to pricing and packaging of their figures, the long transitional period where it seemed that there was a different pricing structure every other day and their perceived attempt to turn Wargames Illustrated into Foundry Illustrated has set quite a lot of bad blood among the hard core of historical wargamers, to the point that until a year or so ago, almost every miniature related mailing list or forum had its regularly recurring 'Foundry bashing' thread.
The last year or two, however, has seen the Foundry returning to a more stable state. Gone are the days of regular releases of entirely new gimmick period figures (Judge Dredd, War Orcs etc) that were clearly aimed at trying to build a 'Foundry Hobby' much in the style of the 'Games Workshop hobby'. Instead, we see the rerelease of old historical ranges that had been unavailable for years (a move correcting what was probably the most questionable decision they made during their wild period) and a general refocus on their core clientèle of historical wargamers.
However, I think that their move into ruleset publishing (no matter how long delayed) indicates that they have still not given up the dream of building a 'Foundry hobby', especially if you consider the fact that they now also provide paints, brushes and generally most of the items you need to build an army.
On the one hand, I think this is a good thing: for the various hobby shops out there, historical wargaming has always been a losing venture, especially in the current days of internet shopping. There simply was no way of stocking even remotely sufficient amounts of the myriad of figure lines of even a single manufacturer to please historically inclined customers, and that's not even speaking of the incredible plethora of historical manufacturers that are supplying our side of the hobby (or habit ? :) ). When a single manufacturer starts bundling things together, it also paves the way for fringe stuff like rules starter kits and army kits including paints and brushes, which are things that I think _will_ be profitable to sell for hobby shops, and consequently will be sold and might even bring more innocent young ones into the fold of historical wargaming (insert maniacal laughter here).
On the other hand, there is the (possibly misguided) gag reflex most historical wargamers have when one thinks of the Foundry mutating into a historical Games Workshop (or even more sinister, being acquired by GW and becoming GW Historical).
I think interesting times are ahead of us. Any ideas?
Monday, 27 December 2004
This episode touches on two points I have given some thought to before, one related to wargaming, and one to that big 1:1 wargame that is life itself. This is essentially a difference of opinion between wargamers of different persuasions. I plan to elaborate a bit on this in a further post, but there are a myriad of ways you can subdivide wargamers, if you are so inclined. On one axis, you could divide wargamers based on the games they play, whether in general terms (fantasy, historical, ...), in terms specific game systems ([Warhammer](http://uk.games-workshop.com/warhammerworld/warhammer/warhammer.htm), [Blitzkrieg Commander](http://www.wargamesdirectory.com/html/bkc/default.asp), ...) or referring to various periods or races they play (WWII, English Civil War, Skaven, ...).
Another axis sorts wargamers into various styles of play: there are those that play wargames for the games aspect, and often do so competitively; there are those that play for the social or fun aspects of pushing tiny tin men around with a group of friends; or those that play games to deepen an understanding in military procedures or history. It is along this axis that the two antagonists in the debate referred to differ: one is interested in playing with toy soldiers, the other one enjoys historical simulations. Taken to its core, the discussion is nothing more than a simple disagreement between different factions.
Where it derails (although this is -- still -- far from the sometimes spectacular and messy flame wars that can erupt on various message boards across the Net) is that one (and quite possibly both, given the fact that the author found it necessary to start a new thread complaining) party feels the need, sincerely or spur of the moment because his cat just scratched the wallpaper, to attack the other sides' point of view instead of accepting it as merely different and building a constructive discussion. That's the second point I referred to above: we, as the species of Connected Homo Sapiens, are far too often more concerned with rabidly defending our -- often misguided at best and down right wrong and damaging at worst -- convictions and _idée fixes_ rather than accepting other ideas as possibly interesting different angles on the same thing.
To put this back onto a wargames track, my own view aligns more closely with the original poster's -- I play with toy soldiers among friends, using miniatures and terrain which also give me great enjoyment to paint and model. What's everyones take on this?
Saturday, 25 December 2004
For those of you with authorship on this blog, I expect a detailed breakdown of any miniature related presents you received!
Tuesday, 21 December 2004
To start with the things that I like, the book is very well presented, better than the other WH books. Each and every page in LotOW is in full colour, and the book is illustrated throughout with good photographs of miniatures illustrating the various rules and mechanics under discussion. The book also includes the now standard painting and modelling section, although in this particular book, that section seemed a bit anemic to me. So in all, good points on presentation.
Another good point is the fact that this book will undoubtebedly draw a few more gamers to the historical side of the hobby, although I'm not quite sure about that, as GW players usually seem to identify themselves with a system (_I'm a Warhammer Fantasy player_ or _I play 40K_) as opposed to a period or style of play (i.e. fantasy or sf), and for them, LotOW will be just another system, with no potential crossbreeding into the world of historical wargaming.
On to the bad points then. As I've said, I've not even managed to read all the rules, so I cannot give a balanced review on this book. I'll just mention why I could not finish reading it -- this is one gamer's opinion, not a review. There are two major reasons why I dislike LoTOW, one reasonable one and one silly one.
The silly reason is language. The book is written in English, but it is rife with expressions like _howdy pardner_, _shootin' phase_ and various other examples of stunted English. Now I'm sure that this has been done out of a misguided wish to inject a certain period feel into the language, but it grates on me terribly. Besides the fact that this form of 'Old West English' is probably a Hollywood creation (nothing wrong with that, the rules state that they want to recreate the Hollywood version of the Wild West), that slang was used in oral communication, not in written communication like a book. The fact that I am personally not a native English speaker might have something to do with this, but I have to stop reading this kind of language after a few pages of it.
The second reason I dislike the rules is their general feel. I do not mean the rules mechanisms themselves (as I cannot form a decent opinion them, not having read them all), but the atmosphere created through them. At least for me, these rules create an atmosphere where everything needs to be spelled out to the letter, and where every little thing needs to have a rule so that players can turn to the holy book and prove their right (or wrong, as the case may be). For a game like DBM, which is geared towards tournament play (or at least has warped to this purpose, having been adopted as the major tournament ancients ruleset), one expects this, but in a skirmish ruleset such as LotOW, I expect a much more laid back and relaxed attitude. Sure, the rules say that in case of a dispute, you should roll a die or draw cards to resolve the dispute, but they belie that sentiment throughout the rest of the book by painstakingly crafting rules for each and every situation imaginable (attacking a horse in HtH, anyone). In an understanding group of gamers, the kind of situations that LotOW seems to need to spell out fully, can be dealt with by consensus, and need not be written out and officialized. Again, it might be just me, but this is the atmosphere that these rules create for me.
I think that for any Old West games I'm organising, I'll stick to our trusty _Shootist_ for the time being. Nevertheless, in the spirit of open mindedness I am perfectly willing to be proven wrong (and will report so here if that is the case) should anyone invite me to a LotOW game. I'll even bring a posse.
Saturday, 18 December 2004
One of the best examples of this last is the excellent [Black Gobbo Magazine](http://us.games-workshop.com/e-zine) published regularly by [Games Workshop US](http://us.games-workshop.com). This magazine usually features articles that are interesting and useful for all kinds of wargamers, and not only GW players. Sure, their will be articles on the [Battle of Maccrage](http://macragge.uk.games-workshop.com/), which is perfectly understandable, given that it supports their latest WH40K release, but there are also many articles on the modelling and painting side of the hobby. Their [latest issue](http://us.games-workshop.com/e-zine/issues/blackgobbo-29/default.htm), for example, has an [article on large bases](http://us.games-workshop.com/games/warhammer/terrain/lg_bases/default.htm) and one rather goofily named [Stupid Hobby Tricks](http://us.games-workshop.com/games/warhammer/painting/tricks/default.htm) that nevertheless features some useful tips & tricks.
I can heartily recommend this magazine to all miniature wargamers - it has earned its place in my bookmarks list!
Wednesday, 15 December 2004
1. I have a large collection of 25mm fantasy figures
2. I like the BC/M44 engine
3. The DVD release of LOTR/ROTK has stirred my interest in fantasy games.
My first attempt at writing down the rules is in the attached pdf file. It is still a very incomplete document, but any comments are welcome. I was planning to run a few games during the Xmas break. More news too follow ...
Te Wapen, Phil's 1st draft on fantasy BC/M44
Tuesday, 14 December 2004
This is a fast play Napoleonics game, apparently owing something to Volley and Bayonet, although this is not a system I know.
We played it with my 6mm figs, using a 30x30 mm base (approx 24 infantry or 8 cav) to represent a regiment. So with about 3 or 4 regiments per division, we each had about 12-16 infantry units, a cavalry unit plus about 5-6 artillery units. Each unit has strength points, between 3 and 7, which determine the number of dice to roll in combat (a 5-6 normally scoring a hit) and the number of casualties it takes before routing. A nice simple system. The interesting bit is in the command points. Each turn you roll a die to see how many command points you receive. There is a matrix and depending on the type of army (French system is better than the pre-corps system) and your leadership rating (Nappy is magnifique, mon General a ete null...) you get CPs. These are used to command your sub generals. The thing is that each turn can have up to 6 sub turns and as long as you have CPs left you can order your troops for a second, third, etc time. A die roll per phase determines the end of the turn, and it progresively becomes more likely that the turn will end.
What happened in the game? Our correspondent on the scene, M. Claude Sur L'Horizon, reports:
'Mon dieu, why you ask zees question? Les imbeciles sur le French droit attaque ze flat footy Autrichien gauche. Quel massacre! Nobody told ze French General Grandjean (Petitcon I call heem) zat ze strength points of ze French are very petits, no more zan 4 et ceux des ennemies sont very very much. Bouf! Ze droit is lost.
Sur le gauche? Aie, aie, aie. Ze Bleue Big Battery, I think you say in anglais, is mooved forward and is stop-ped and does not fire ze guns. Oh la la, ze French try ze attaque in ze centre and encore c'est la honte...'
I think I had better stop him there. You get the picture. One interesting point was that, in this 4 turn game (games limited to 3-6 turns), the first three turns ended after just one impulse. This meant that the French could not use their superior command and control to their advantage unti the last turn, and then it was a bit late. But the last turn showed what was possible, as the French centre started to knock the Austrians about a bit.
Summary - excellent game, simple rules, elegant, no messing about. I like it a lot and for an evening's bloodfest, it's perfect.
Monday, 13 December 2004
WotR is a game on, amazingly, the War of the Ring in Middle Earth. It is a game that encompasses the entirety of the events in the final year of the Third Age, with both the Quest of the Fellowship to destroy the One Ring and the global war featured in the game. It features a Good and an Evil (Free Peoples and Shadow) player, controlling armies of Men, Elves, Orcs and whatnot, with the FP player simultaneously trying to move the Fellowship to Mordor to cast the Ring in the Mountain of Doom.
There are a basic four victory conditions in the game: two for each side. The FP player can either gather up 4 points worth of Shadow strongholds (e.g. Moria and Dol Guldur) or destroy the Ring. The Shadow player needs to conquer 10 points in FP strongholds (this might seem disparate, but the Shadow armies are much larger and much easier reinforced than the FP armies) or push the fellowship to 12 points in corruption, leading Frodo to claim the Ring for himself and loosing the game for the FP player. The game is driven by 'action dice' and event cards, and the tactics involve using these essentially random factors within a strategic framework (the 'master plan').
What makes the game a real hit, is a combination two factors: the razor like game balance and the sheer endlessness of different strategies to play. The game balance is very well done, with many games hingeing on the roll of a die or the drawing of a single damage chit. It is absolutely mind boggling to imagine to amount of playtesting that must have gone into making a game with so many variables teeter on so fine an edge in play balance. Very well done.
The second great point about this game is the variety. As in [Axis & Allies](http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/prod/axis), you can try out a virtually infinite plethora of different strategies. As A&A, the game also has a certain chaos quality to it: given two games with the same players playing the same general strategies, the two games can differ radically, depending on a single die result or event card draw early in the game.
These two factors together make this one of the best boardgames ever, and combined with the setting amidst the epic struggles of Middle Earth this means that we will play this game for years to come.
Now let's just hope noone gets tempted to paint the playing pieces. :)
Friday, 10 December 2004
Processing pictures in a photo editing program needs a photo editing program, obviously. I use [The Gimp](http://www.gimp.org), but other popular choices are [Adobe Photoshop](http://www.adobe.com/products/photoshop/main.html) and [Paint Shop Pro](http://www.jasc.com/products/paintshoppro/?). All of these three programs offer largely the same functionality but hide it away in different menus and toolboxes, under different names. As I realise that the Gimp is not the most used program out there, I'll try to keep the descriptions in this entry general and not use Gimp-specific terms so that people with other programs can find the equivalent tools in their programs. Unfortunately, that also means that this will not be a step by step tutorial, but rather more of a hazy overview - if you want a tutorial, you can do much worse that hopping over to [Cool Mini or Not](http://www.coolminiornot.com) and having a browse through the articles section (_after_ you've read this entry, of course).
To illustrate the operations described in this entry I will use a photograph of a recently painted figure of a Celtic warrior, as featured on my [Flickr Photostream](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes) [here](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes/2061940/). Throughout the article, I will illustrate the various manipulations I usually do on the photographs, starting with the original photograph straight from the camera (clicking on the thumbnail, and any thumbnail in this article, will lead you to a larger version of the stage):
This is the original image, taken against a white paper background with a single overhead light source. This photograph needs some work: obviously, the cork the figure is mounted on as well as its unpainted base need to be snipped off, and the single light source also leads to some problems, notably an uneven distribution of highlights and shadows, and some noise as a result of a general low lighting. We'll correct most of these problems in due course, starting with framing the figure through cropping.
This step is where you frame the miniature. It is as simple as selecting a rectangular region around the miniature and using the 'Crop image' (or some such) function - note that this is different from the regular crop function, in that it crops the image and resizes the canvas so that the image is no larger than the cropped selection. Regular cropping cuts away the remainder of the image, but leaves the image at the same size, resulting in large amounts of nothing around the cropped region. In this step, the cork is removed, but the figures' base is still present - that will be edited out further down the road.
The next step I usually take is to apply a despeckling filter. This filter removes specks and grains from the image - for a digital image, these specks result from a too high ISO setting or too low light, causing image 'noise'. Not much noise was present on this particular image, but the despeckle filter did reduce the contrast at the edges of the figure a bit, notably around the spearshaft, which is nice too. The general effect of this filter is now to 'smooth' the image a bit (which is only logical, as the despeckle filter blurs some pixels, only less so than a full Gaussian Blur or some such filter).
In the next step, the background is deleted so that we can add a different one later. To do this, I have used the 'Magic Wand' tool, which is a tool that selects contiguous areas of similar pixels (both Photoshop and Paint Shop Pro (I think) have this tool, although possibly named differently) and is one of the most useful and magical tools in the Gimp toolbox. This is also one area where having only a single light source can bite you - a single light source means that the background has some variation in shading, not much but enough to make the magic wand tool not select it all at once. Luckily, you can easily add to a selection (in the Gimp by holding the shift key while clicking). After most of the background is selected, the freehand selection tool is used to adjust the selection a bit, and the selection is then inverted (to get the figure instead of the background), feathered (to get a border), and floated and anchored to a new layer. The original background layer is deleted, so what remains is the figure on a transparent background. Those of you _not_ using Internet Explorer will see this transparent background on the picture to the left (well, they will see their browser's background, of course), but IE does not do transparency in PNG (boo hiss), so IE users should see a grey background.
This step is where the _real_ magic happens. Althoug you would not tell on first sight, there are some problems with this photograph, mostly related to the use of a single light source: there is an uneven distribution of highlights and shadows, with the highlights at the top of the figure being almost washed out, and the lower half of the figure being generally too dark (the light source was overhead). The colours themselves are mostly fine and represent the actual colours, thanks to the setting of the white balance on the camera to match the lighting. In this step, we will correct the colours and value (lightness) distribution of the image. This is done through adjusting the 'levels' and 'curves' of the figure. Going into the detail of this would take us too far, but I basically lifted the shadows and midtones up a bit and toned down the extreme highlights, both through the curves tool, and stretched the value distribution across the full range of values using the levels tool. The result is a much improved image, I hope. I realise that this is all a bit theoretical, and might post an entry in the future with a detailed step by step rendition of this process, but for now, just saying that the curves and levels tools are among the most important in image post processing will be enough, and any aspiring miniature photographers should familiarise themselves with their use.
Finally, I add a new background by simply adding a layer below the figure layer, and filling it with a gradient from a medium grey to a light grey, with the light grey at the bottom. The resulting image is then exported to a jpg and is the final image to be published.
That's the end of this mini series on miniature photography; I hope it has been helpful to some. Finally, as with painting itself, the most important ingredients in miniature photography is practice, practice and practice. So don't be afraid to experiment - it might not look like anything but will help you improve your next pictures!
__Update__: turns out this is not the end of the series. There's a [part 4](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000132.html).
* [Part 1 - Lighting](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000035.html)
* [Part 2 - Camera settings](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000038.html)
* [Part 3 - Post processing](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000054.html) -- You are here
* [Part 4 - Stage setup](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000132.html)
Tuesday, 7 December 2004
This time, what caught my attention is [this gallery](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com/OLDWEST/index.htm) of [Kevin Dallimore](http://www.kevindallimore.co.uk)'s painted and often converted Old West figures. For those of you wargaming on the South Pole out of contact with the rest of civilisation, Kevin Dallimore is the British painter that pioneered the high contrast, three layer painting style that has been appropriated by [The Foundry](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com) as their house style.
Those of you familiar with my own style of painting will know that I use a similar style as the one on the models pictured on that page (although I usually stay well below that level of contrast, preferring to leave that to the professionals), but I can only ever dream of achieving a quality of colour and finish that approaches even Dallimore's least inspired works. So, everyone [go there](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com/OLDWEST/index.htm) and be amazed.
And to pile even more eye candy into the already well filled stocking, here's some links to other painters that have adopted and perfected the Dallimore style:
* [Steve Dean](http://www.steve-dean.co.uk)
* [Tom Weiss](http://www.twfigurines.de)
* [Spencer Keen](http://www.spencerkeen.com)
* [Chris Steadman](http://www.back-burner.co.uk)
And after you've looked at the best, look at my own work on my [Flickr photostream](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes) and compare :).
Friday, 3 December 2004
Alan, Graham K and myself played a Low Countries 1940 game the other day, pitting a German infantry battallion reinforced with some panzer companies and the usual regimental assets against a Dutch infantry battalion with some support in a fierce battle for the village of Nergenshoven. We used the "Advance" scenario from the [Errata document](http://www.wargamesdirectory.com/downloads/bkc/BKC-Errata.pdf) on the BKC web page, which involves the attacking side (the Germans in our game) trying to methodically capture most of the table, with the defender's aim being to prevent this of course.
I am happy to say (and the author will be pleased to hear, no doubt) that the game went swimmingly and smooth - after the first couple of turns, I no longer had to give directions to the player as to the rules, since they were running the game by themselves (I was umpiring, Graham played the Germans and Alan took his Dutch out for their first outing). Many rulesets claim this feat, but this is the very first one, especially for WWII games, where I have seen this actually happening. It helped of course that both Alan and Graham are experienced WWII gamers that know their mortars from their machine guns, but it is still quite impressive to see them playing the game -- correctly -- without reference to the rules whatsoever after only a few turns of play.
The command system turned out to be a hit as well. Both players were repeatedly asking themselves whether they should try one more order with a formation, at the risk of not only failure, but also catastrophic failure. In one quite amusing incident, a company of Dutch infantry spent most of a turn shooting at shapes vaguely seen through a high corn field, which of course turned out to be other Dutch (in rules parlance, a command blunder resulted in Dutch troops getting caught in the crossfire from other Dutch troops). It did seem a bit counterintuitive at first that a CO (the highest commander on the field) cannot issue orders to troops subordinate commanders have failed to order, but it does fit in the concept of the command system that way.
And I'm pleased to say that, despite my earlier misgivings, the combat system is a true pearl. It flows very smoothly, mostly due to the fact that there is no looking up of to hit numbers, and the distinction between suppression and falling back comes naturally when playing. The combat system succeeds perfectly in its intention (as stated by the author) of not getting in the way of the players and the game. Very well done!
There's one slight niggle though: the quick reference sheets were confusing to use, at least for us. Possibly because of layout restrictions, the various sections of the QRS belonging to a certain game phase seem to be spread across both sides of the sheet, resulting in quite a bit of confused flipping. However, this is a minor niggle, as experience showed that the players knew the rules after only a few turns of play.
To sum it up, both players bought or have arranged to buy the rules after the game. Enough said, I should think. BKC is an extremely good WWII ruleset for our style of play, possibly even the best out there.
Oh yes, the outcome? History repeated itself: the Germans captured the village of Nergenshoven and fulfilled their victory conditions. Alan's Dutch, befittingly for figures on their first outing, were soundly defeated.
Wednesday, 1 December 2004
* 28mm Celts - [Old Glory](http://www.oldgloryuk.com) and [Foundry](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com). These are for my [WAB](http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/WABlist) army to be used in our upcoming escalation campaign (on which details will follow later on the [club website](/snv) ).
* 28mm Sub Roman British archers - Old Glory. Just the one remaining out of a unit of ten. These are to complete my other (virtually finished) WAB army.
* 28mm Old West - Foundry, from when they were still the schizoid nephews Guernsey and Wargames Foundry. What can I say? Just the buzz surrounding [Legends of the Old West](http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/LOTOldWest) inspired me to dig some of them out of the Mountain of Lead in the cellar.
* 15mm dwarves - [Essex](http://www.essexminiatures.co.uk). The abortive attempt for a second [HoTT](http://www.btinternet.com/~alan.catherine/wargames/strong.htm) day put these on my painting table.
* 28mm Boxer Rebellion - Old Glory. I'm painting these for Phil, as a leftover of my short attempt at a painting service.
* 28mm Darkest Africa askari - Foundry. They moved on my painting table in preparation for the [Exploring the Congo](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000018.html) game, and still haven't left.
As you can see, I tend to subscribe to Phil's current opinion that variety is the spice of painting. I agree with him that not painting for projects that have to be finished quickly is much more agreeable than the hithertofore more usual deadline pushing painting marathons.
You can look at photographs of most of the finished versions of these miniatures on my [Flickr](http://www.flickr.com) [photostream](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes), the five most recent of which also show up in the sidebar.
Perhaps people can comment on this entry with their 'Currently painting' lists? If this catches on, I might make this a monthly recurring entry in its own category (all the easier to generate content that way :) ).
Tuesday, 30 November 2004
One good idea that I did get from the book however, was the use of dyed bathroom towels as terrain material. In a somewhat uncharacteristic burst of enthousiasm, I decided to try this out myself. I 'rescued' an old towel from an ignominious fate in the waste bin (no matter the fact that it wasn't quite at that stage yet -- let's hope my wife has not counted the towels) and dyed it green. This is a small photo tutorial on how I did it.
|The dramatis personae: green and black paint, burnt sienna pigment and an innocent towel. The paints are actually textile paint, but that does not matter for this -- they could have been normal acrylic paints as well. They are also quite old, as you can still spot the price tags in Belgian Francs, so they have to be pre 2002 (when the Euro was introduced as a day to day currency). The pigment I used is normally intended to be put into white household paint to generate your own private colour -- very chic. Belgian DIY'ers will recognise the house brand of Brico, a fount of inspiration for wargamers.|
|Work in progress. The unsavoury pea soup like mixture in the bucket is water with a bit of the green textile paint and just a squirt of burnt sienna. It does not need much -- there's about half a teaspoon's worth of paint and a quarter of that in pigment to about 3 litres of water. I did not use the black paint as I thought the colour of the mixture was a nice olive shade which looked quite natural. The towel is just dunked into the bucket and left there for a few minutes.|
|The result - a green towel. Notice the more saturated green spots where the green paint was not mixed properly. In this picture, the towel looks fine, but after drying, I find it to be a bit too light. Perhaps with the next towel (one is bound to wear out soon, no?) I'll either add more paint or add some black to the mix.|
I plan on using the towel cut up into irregular pieces, drybrushed and covered with various grades and colours of flock to break up open and grassed terrain. We'll see how it works out.
Sunday, 28 November 2004
I'm now up to 74 spear wielding peasants, 8 skirmishers and 16 heavy infantry plus a General and standard bearer piece. About 800 points worth.
But to get to 2000 points, an awful lot more are needed!
Saturday, 27 November 2004
There really should be more web pages on miniature wargaming like this. The only one I can think of that is comparable in content and setup is the [Major General Tremorden Rederring](http://zeitcom.com/majgen/) home page. Which brings me to a possibly interesting question - why is it that it is this general period of wargaming and wargamers, i.e. the Victorian / Pulp genre, seem to be the ones that come up with this type of quality page? Is it difficult or impossible to do for other periods, or is it that there are in fact pages out there that I don't know about which are comparable in quality? Comments welcome!
Thursday, 25 November 2004
![Number two site](/snv/ttm/pics/topsites_2.png)
Of course, the fact that John, the owner of the site, moved it to a new location and that we were the second site to reregister there _might_ have had something to do with this. Oh well.
Wednesday, 24 November 2004
The choice of armies as always was rather fun. I favoured Polybian Romans, on the grounds that I wanted this army in my collection, and Burgundian Ordonnance, for the colour. Graham was more pragmatic in approach, seeking the killer army in the list. He came up with the Sciri, a hairy, unwashed tribe of the 4th Century who had the Huns and Dacians as allies. Well, allegedly once in 371 AD or something according to the esteemed authors of the DBM Army Lists. As usual, I let myself be talked into this. Graham is now Management Class and has even married a Director Class lady, so he is a man to be obeyed! Our first thoughts were to scratch together the army from our various collections, but I couldn't bear the thought of using Sub Roman Britains as Gothic Cavalry, so I did a quick paint job. I bought Donnington figures, which have nice poses but are of terrible casting quality. Lots of cleaning needed, and the lines on the figures are often vague so this makes painting trickier. Nonetheless, I completed them reasonably quickly, with a record being the 80 Dacians over a weekend.
Our army was split into four commands. Two commands of Sciri, each consisting of 8 elements of fast knights and 20 elements of archers plus some supporting skirmishers. As allied commands (for those who do not know DBM, allies have the fatal tendency to be unreliable in a battle) we had a tiny Hun command of 7 superior Light Horse and a large command of 30 odd unwashed, hairy warband and falxmen from Dacia.
The tournament is held in Pevensey Bay, a really nice, small seaside hamlet in East Sussex, where William and his Normans first landed back in 1066. We stay in the Priory Court Hotel, which is more of a pub really, next to William's Castle and an old Roman fort from a previous conqueror. It makes a nice walk in the morning through the castle grounds, past the first Saxon church in England to the newspaper shop. This tradition is now added to by the appearance of Graham's old friend, Paul Stovell and his 10 year-old son James, a skilful games player adept at very pertinent one-liners that leave the recipient speechless and on-lookers in hysterics.
Game One was against a Middle Imperial Roman army. Or at least that was the billing. Until our opponents turned up, declaring that they had in fact Sarmatians. So a rapid change of plan was in order. These Sarmatians had tons of fast knights, even more than we did, plus an ally of superior warband. The game started with us attacking and our first dice rolls revealed our strategically placed Dacians (in the centre) and Huns (on the left) to be unreliable. Gulp. The opponents plan was to kill the Huns, and this, in the rules would lead to the Dacians joining their side. On the right, Graham had the two commands of Sciri. He charged his opponents knights, but when he ran into an ambush, things looked black. However, two things went our way. First, our opponent advanced right up to the unreliable allies and then halted (if you attack an unreliable then, not unreasonably the Ally decides to fight after all). It was Murphy's law that immediately after this dither, my allies became reliable (this happens on a die roll of a 6 at the beginning of a turn) and my skirmishers destroyed 3 knights. On the right, Graham was defending brilliantly and also causing heavy casualties, so heavy that suddenly the game turned around and we sent the Sarmatians home. A good start and an 8-2 victory.
Game Two was against, guess who, Paul and James (see above). This year, they had brought a Castle and a medieval German army of Knights, spearmen, light horse and the like. With glee and much gloating they succeeded in placing their Castle on a massive hill on our base line and fortified it with troops and a baggage train. I don't know if it was the Castle, with its rotating dungeons and movable drawbridge that distracted me or if Graham had not drunk enough beer at lunchtime, but we were well and truly thrashed. We dithered over three deployments and the one we went for was the worst imaginable. Suffice to say our troops were sandwiched into a corner and eaten alive by the joyous and skilful Stovells.
Sigh. A pretty poor show. Saturday evening had us playing San Juan, a great card game and, I decided, much more fun than DBM. I passed on the bridge though, not knowing anything about this obscure game (I leave that to my wife, who is a fanatical and fire-breathing Bridge ace).
Sunday morning, we decided, would go much better, and this seemed indeed to be likely when our campaign against Jeremy and Darrell's Avars began. Graham's knights smashed through their front line while my left wing advanced slowly but steadily, ready to strike. Our opponents made a bid for an Oscar with wailing and complaining, but, when everything seemed to be going well, things started to unravel. Graham's knight charge petered out and the Avar reserves nobbled them. The Huns moved from side to side of the table, ineffective and confused as we could not decide how to use them. I advanced my own knights but they got isolated and in their turn were killed off, with even an inferior auxilia killing 2 or 3 of them. Before we knew it, it was game over and another defeat. We have played Jeremy many times, and every time something like this (or usually worse) happens. I guess we should have known.
Lunchtime felt like a summer's day at the seaside and when my (very good) fish and chips were finally served I decided to eat them slowly in the sun, chatting with Eric, the amiable organiser of the event. Poor Graham missed out on a hot lunch and Eric and I sent him off to get our last game underway.
This was against a Dacian army. A great opponent for us, we foolishly thought. The terrain fell for them perfectly, with a barrier of woods and steep hills right across the middle of the table. This would be tricky. The Dacians would certainly not try to come out of their hiding place, as this would expose them to our 'powerful' knights. So we took the idiotic decision to flank march our own Dacians, relegating them (not for the first time this weekend) to useless inactivity. Meanwhile, we set up our depleted army and complacently awaited developments. These rapidly came when the Dacians charged us. There were many thousands of them and we were soon overwhelmed. Despite the loss of the right flank (mine!) to bold Dacian bowmen and warbands, we held on grimly to the last die roll of the game, which we lost and our army fled in ignimony and deserved shame.
Another Sunday afternoon fiasco, this is getting to be a regular habit! Actually I feel quite sorry for Graham, who is a good player normally. I think my influence is dragging him down. One problem is that I can't take the games seriously enough, which must be frustrating for him. I will encourage him to find another partner for next year, I think, and he will probably end up a Champ, as opposed to the Chumps that we were this year!
Theme next year - any army in the DBM lists that is valid for 1005. Interesting?
Monday, 22 November 2004
In short, I like them, more than I thought I would. It's not that they are significantly better than [Vallejo](http://www.acrylicosvallejo.com) (my preferred paint until now) simply as paints - they certainly are not the better of Vallejo in areas like coverage, pigmentation or ease of application. In fact, in many of these areas, I would prefer Vallejo over Foundry. As paints _tout court_, the Foundry paints are good, but they are not significantly better than anybody else.
What I do like about the Foundry Paint System is what makes it a _System_, no matter the slightly presumptuous sound that may have. It's the fact that the paints come in sets of three -- shade, base colour and highlight -- that makes this line of paint so good. Despite the advantages of mixing the highlight colours from the base colour I [stated earlier](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000007.html), it remains a somewhat hit-and-miss affair, which you no longer have with the FPS. This is reason enough for me to gradually make the switch to the Foundry Paint System: you always have your highlight colour available, even if it is a colour someone else chose for you. And it is the highlight colour that goes a long way to making or breaking a three-layer paint job.
Additionally, just painting with the paints and seeing them face-to-pigment has taught me something which I had not appreciated before: the shade colours are actually fairly light in value, corresponding more or less to the lightness of the base colours I am accustomed to use. Part of what makes a Foundry three layer paint job look the way it does is just that: the shade colour is already fairly light, which brings about a good contrast between it and the black prime coat (black priming becomes essential for this). I had not appreciated this before, but I can already see me migrating towards this style a bit more (which will be automatic with the FPS anyway).
In short, if anyone is looking for a Christmas present for me, pallettes 3, 4 and 10 are next on my list :).
Thursday, 18 November 2004
This is as much a test of the Flickr post-to-blog gizmo as anything else, but anyway. The figure you should see pictured on the left here is one of the first ones I painted with some of the Foundry Paint System paints I bought at Crisis. His jacket (both green and yellow colours) and the red shirt have been painted with the Foundry colors. The trousers are Vallejo, but I really went to town with power highlighting on them to match the Foundry highlights.
Overall, I think it worked out quite well. Any reactions?
Sunday, 14 November 2004
### Pedigree ###
First off, it seems that the rules are based, at least in some limited way, on the [Warmaster](http://www.warmaster.co.uk) rules, which are considered by many to be the most 'developed' wargames rules from [Games Workshop](http://uk.games-workshop.com). I have not read or played these rules, so I cannot comment on this. If someone is reading this that by any chance has played both rule systems, feel free to comment as to their similarity (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
### Command & control system ###
Blitzkrieg Commander has an interesting command & control system: each army has a number of commanders of varying capacity (expressed as a number between 1 and 12, not coincidentally the range one can roll on 2D6). To enable units under command of that commander to do something, the commander needs to roll equal to or lower than his command score. If unsuccessful, that commander is done for that turn. If the command roll is successful, the units execute their action (moving, firing, whatever) _and the commander can continue to issue orders_, with a -1 modifier to the command roll per extra successful order.
This last thing is what makes the command & control system so interesting: you can continue to issue orders with a commander, as long as you keep succeeding the ever more difficult command rolls. With a decent commander, this means that you can _probably_ get in multiple orders, but you're not sure. This means that players should prioritise their actions and do the most important ones first, which I think is quite realistic (not that I have any relevant real life experience). From experience with other systems like this, I find that this gives a tense and exciting game, which can only be applauded.
### Combat ###
The combat system of Blitzkrieg commander is unified across different types of combat: whether close combat, direct or indirect fire is executed, the same system of resolving the combats is used. This is good. What is worse, is that the system that is used seems a little top heavy.
To hit someone, you roll a number of D6 equal to the attack value of the firer, where the ones above a certain target number -- depending on cover and with a very small number of modifiers -- are hits. The target then rolls saving throws for these hits (mostly only armoured targets have saving throws). The hits that are not saved are then actual hits, which need to be recorded or indicated near the target (by means of chits or a small die or such). Each unit has a number of hit points, and if it has received that many hits, it is wiped out. If a shot does not wipe out a unit, it can suppres or recoil that unit. That is determined by rolling a number of D6 equal to the number of hits scored and trying to roll the to hit number again. Any 'hits' result in suppression or recoil if the target was already suppressed. If rolling for a recoil, the total number of pips rolled is the distance the target unit will recoil.
As you can see, that's lots of dice rolling. I do not have a problem with buckets of dice style games (I like [WAB](http://www.warhammer-historical.com) for example), but this system adds some complications on top of that. While in WAB, you just roll to hit, reroll the hits to wound, and reroll those to save. In this system, the basic flow is similar, but there are added complications when suppressing and especially when recoiling, which I suspect will slow down combat resolution a bit. Add to this the need for bookkeeping and I think the system might be a bit top heavy. That said, I have not played any games with the rules yet, so I might well be wrong.
That's about it for this mini-review. I think I will have to play a game with the rules to get a better feel for them, and to see whether the cringing feeling I get when looking at the combat system is correct or not. Exciting, is it not?
Wednesday, 10 November 2004
### Focus ###
The entire purpose of photographing miniatures is to be able to see them clearly, so an in focus, sharp shot is mandatory. Most cameras have a decent autofocus that should be able to focus on the miniature easily, especially if it is well lit and there are no distractions for the camera (i.e. put the miniature in front of a uniform background so the camera has no troubles deciding what it should focus on). However, the rub usually lies in trying to get close enough to the figure to get a decent frame filling shot -- for this you need a _macro_ lens or setting on your camera.
What this does, is enable the camera to focus much closer to the lens than usual. With the macro setting on [my camera](http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/cameraDetail.php?cam=506), I usually can get to within 7-8 cm of the figure, which for a 25mm figure results in a shot that is just slightly smaller than the frame, so that's OK. I have recently [read](http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/cameraDetail.php?cam=506) (and verified) that my camera can support an external macro lens wich has a shorter focal lenght and will allow me to get even closer, so I might look into that and modify my Christmas wishlist a bit :)
A further important point focus wise is _depth of focus_. A camera focuses on a point at a certain distance from the lens, and has an area around that point where it focuses -- this is the depth of focus. For a miniature, bad depth of focus might mean that the face of a miniature is in focus, while the back of a hat, or a forward pointing arm is not. It is important to get a good depth of focus to make sure the entire miniature is in focus (for a shot where I got this wrong, see [this photograph](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes/1288936/) ). This is done by reducing the aperture of the camera: the smaller the aperture (the physical opening through which light enters the camera body), the better the depth of focus. Which brings us nicely to the next point.
### Aperture ###
As mentioned above, a good depth of focus is essential for photographing miniatures. The way to achieve this with consumer level cameras is to manipulate the _aperture_ settings of the camera. This, of course, assumes that your camera comes with a way to override the automatic aperture settings (on my camera, this is called _Av_ or _aperture priority_ mode), or that you have a SLR where you can set the aperture on the lens (the camera then selects an appropriate exposure time).
If you can do this, the rule is simple: smaller aperture means greater depth of focus. The smaller the aperture, the more of your miniature will be in focus. So should we simply set the aperture as small as possible? Not really, as a small aperture also means that less light will enter the camera (logically), so the camera will select longer exposure times, which come with their own set of problems (stabilisation, see further on). So, you need to compromise -- I usually take my photographs with an F-stop of 9.8 or so, leading to exposure times of about a quarter of a second, so I do need some extra tricks to get a stable image.
### White balance ###
Take a painted miniature, or even a piece of coloured paper, and look at it in daylight, under fluorescent light and in the light of a standard incandescant light bulb. You will notice that the colours will look different under these different lighting conditions. This is because every light source has a certain 'temperature', which reflects the distribution of colors it has in it (it is called a 'temperature' because it is linked to the radiation of a perfect black body at a certain temperature - if light has the same color distribution as a black body of temperature X, it is said to have a color temperature of X. X is usually in the high thousands, BTW). Because different sources of light have different colors in them at varying amounts, they show other colours in biased ways (as color in a miniature is determined by reflection of incipient light, the color percieved is dependent upon the color of that incipient light).
For a camera to correctly show the colors of a miniature, it needs to be told about the color temperature of the light illuminating the miniature. This is done through the _white balance_ setting. In conventional cameras, this is done using filters and special attachment, but most digital cameras have facilities on board to correct the colors on the fly. Most cameras have a few preprogrammed white balance settings (e.g. fluorescent light, incandescent light, daylight...), and if you're lucky, as I am, your camera allows you to manually set the white balance. In my case, I simply have to take a quick snapshot of a white object (I use the paper backdrop I put miniatures against) under the same light, and the camera adjusts its white balance from that. Easy.
If your camera does not have a manual white balance setting, you'll have to experiment with the automatic settings to get a good result. Of course, if your camera does not have a way of specifying a white balance, you'll just have to go with what you get, and possibly do some image manipulation later (that's part 3 of this article series).
### ISO ###
Traditional photography films have an ISO rating, which reflects the coarseness of the silver halide grains on the substrate (can you tell I have a chemical background?). The standard ISO ratings are ISO 100, 200 and 400. The higher the ISO rating, the bigger the grains and the more light sensitive the film is. Unfortunately, high ISO ratings naturally also mean more grainier photographs, so as usual it's a case of balancing pros and cons.
For a digital camera, ISO ratings make no sense (as they do not use films), but most of them do provide an ISO rating, which simply reflects the voltage set across the CCD to increase light sensitivity. High ISO ratings in this case have the same effect as with films: better light sensitivity but noisier photographs (more voltage means more noise). For this reason, I always set my camera to use the lowest possible ISO rating (100). You will need more light and longer exposure times, though.
### Light ###
Did we not talk about this already? [Yes we did](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000035.html), but let's now quickly go over the ways to increase the cameras light sensitivity, most of which we've already covered. First off, there's aperture and exposure time. Bigger apertures and longer exposure times lead to better light sensitivity, but have their problems as well: loss of depth of focus and increased need for camera stabilisation, respectively. On some cameras, you can also deliberately over (or under) expose a photograph. I usually do this to a certain extent, but too much will lead to extra noise in the photograph. Finally, you can also increase the ISO setting, as mentioned above, but that introduces more noise as well.
So, as with most, all of these have their checks and balances, so it's a question of doing some experimenting and seeing what works best (and providing enough light in the first place, of course).
### Camera stabilisation ###
As you take pictures in low light and/or with longer exposure times, you will get into the region where moving the camera while taking the picture will blur the picture (this is from about 1/30s exposure times or so), which is not good. Unfortunately, I regularly find myself taking photographs of miniatures with exposure times of quarter seconds, half seconds or even longer. For this, good stabilisation of the camera is an absolute necessity.
The holy grail of stabilisation is a tripod, of course, but I don't have one of those yet (it's on my wishlist :) ), so I use another common trick. I put the camera on a flat stable surface (read -- the kitchen table) and use its timed shot feature, where it takes a picture ten seconds after you've pressed the button. This is intended for photographs where the photographer wants to be on as well, but it works very well for taking long exposure photos, as your shaking hands are not on the camera and there's no button push to move the camera when taking the shot.
Whew, that's it for this installment. The next one will be the final one and talk about what you can do with an image manipulation program to increase the quality of your pictures.
* [Part 1 - Lighting](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000035.html)
* [Part 2 - Camera settings](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000038.html) -- You are here
* [Part 3 - Post processing](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000054.html)
* [Part 4 - Stage setup](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000132.html)
Monday, 8 November 2004
The Prussian airforce has airlifted two battalions of troops to the region. They surprised and easily overcame local defences and have seized the town. Armoured reinforcements are on the way from the nearby Prussian barracks of Woi.
In response, the Platteland Government has sent its second brigade of infantry plus a regiment of armoured cars, who were stationed near Binnenland, to the conflict zone.
On both sides, there is now evidence of general mobilisation.
What will happen?
Options for the Prussians
- dig in and defend, limiting incursions to Holstein
- take offensive actions, eg bombing of roads and brdges, reinforcing with armour, send U-boats to Zuidhafn
- start to negotiate
Options for the Plattelanders
- concede Holstein
- take counter measures, eg against Wocht or border stations
- pitched battle for Holstein
- call on Albion or Rusland for help
On to the personal bit. [We](/snv) took a rehash of our [Zeebrugge](/snv/zeebrugge/zeebrugge.html) game, using the same terrain but setting it during a fictional [Operation SHIELD FRIENDLY](/snv/documents/osf_web.pdf) in August 1944. The game was well received (although I think we spent less effort this year evangelicising it) but, as predicted, did not win any prizes (I would have been quite amazed had it done so). As to the result, the Germans easily beat off the British assault, leading to the safe escape of the submarine prototype.
Personally, I had entered this figure in the painting competition, in the single historical miniature category:
I thought the paintjob on this figure to be pretty good (considering I only spent around 4 hours on it, base included), but my hopes flagged when I went to check out the competition. Luckily, it did not turn out that bad at all, as I got two bronze medals (one in category, one for Celtic figures -- although there probably only were three Celtic figures :) ) for it. According to Willie, this year's scoring of the competition was very tough (there were only two gold medals in the entire competition), so I'm quite chuffed with this achievement. The figure will make a perfect general for my Celtic army for our upcoming WAB escalation campaign.
Purchase wise, I got four sets of [Foundry](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com) [Paint System](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com/paint/index.asp): the black and white, some reds, some yellows and some greens. I'm quite curious as to whether I'll like painting with these (I know the paints themselves will be pretty good, given that they are produced by the same firm that produces the Coat d' Arms series as well as the old [GW](http://uk.games-workshop.com) paints, and that the Foundry apparently has had them put in quite a lot of pigment), and I'll report my findings here once I have painted up a few figures with them. My second purchase was in the bring & buy, where I picked up almost 100 of the now out of production Goedendag Miniatures Flemish Communal infantry. They do seem to be a bit of a bother to assemble, as they consist of seperate torsos, arms, weapons and heads, but knowing my current style of building units, I'd probably have converted most of them anyway (head swaps etc), so this will give me more freedom to do so (famous last words). They will form the infantry arm (about four units or so) of a future Flemish 14th Century army.
Now on to the rest of the convention. My general impression was that the overall level of the convention was better than last year. There was certainly more lighting, the catering problems had been cleverly solved by providing discount tickets for the nearby [Quick](http://www.quick.be) (although there apparently was quite a spectacle to be seen in a competing sandwichbar) and attendance seemed to be up. I did feel that the general level of the games presented had levelled off a bit (to some fault of our own of course, as we were taking an 'old' game). Over the last couple of years, the number of 'wow' games has risen steadily, but I thought that this year, that number has stabilised a bit (at least not risen anymore).
That said, there were some beautiful games around. TSA had done a rendition of the assault of the Evil forces on Osgiliath, built entirely in Hirst's Arts blocks, that was pretty popular with visitors throughout the day. Peter & Petra Schulein of [Murphy's Heroes](http://www.murphysheroes.nl) presented _A hot day in June_, a beautiful 6mm version of a 1967 or so battle in the Egyptian / Israeli desert. Going right along, the [Dortmund Amateur Wargamers](http://www.multimania.com/daw) presented an exquisitely done game on Operation Felix, the planned but never executed German assault on Gibraltar in 1941. This game featured their trademark well crafted and finely detailed terrain and troops, and deservedly won Best Presented Wargame (again).
On a side note, this might say something about the state of wargaming in Belgium: on Belgium's premier wargames show, only two Belgian clubs have ever won Best Presented Wargame, all of the other awards going to German or Dutch clubs. Should we be worried about this? Comments, please. It was heart warming, though, to see [Stipsiczs Hussars](http://www.wargames-central.com) win the new prize for Best Participation Game, after years of staying under the radar. Well done, Fons & Marcel!
Les Chemins de Feu presented a well modelled game on the Russo-Finnish winter war, featuring some very realistic icy lakes and snow. This game excelled in the surrounding paraphernalia as well, having a few (original?) period weapons along, and continually displaying a Norwegian-Finnish DVD on the war, among other things.
Finally, [THS](http://www.ths-wargames.de/), a German club, presented Phil's dream -- a full size 25mm game on the Boxer Rebellion, featuring the city wall and what looked like most or all of the Legation Quarter in Beijing.
That's about it for this installment. I'll put up some photos of the convention fairly soon(ish).
Wednesday, 3 November 2004
First off, my camera is a [HP Photosmart 945](http://www.dcresource.com/reviews/cameraDetail.php?cam=506) [digital camera](http://www.dcresource.com), but any camera, digital or analog, with a number of features which I explain below will do. Also, my camera is a 5 megapixel one but you do not need nearly that much resolution to take photograps of miniatures you want to display on a web page. In fact, I can't even use the full 5 megapixels, as the fixed lens on the camera cannot focus close enough to allow the miniature to fill the frame and thus use the full resolution. In this case, bigger is not better.
The most important part about taking pictures of miniatures is lighting. There can never be enough light on your miniature. The reason why is basically twofold. On the one hand, you need the light to show detail, quite simply. Without adequate lighting, the figure becomes a shady, undetailed ghost of itself. You can try to beef up the lightness of the picture in an image editing program afterwards, but that is usually quite unsatisfying, as your original picture does not have enough dynamic range (different values of "lightness") to work with (and, to quote a certain Mr. Baggins of Bag End, near Hobbiton, the Shire, extending this small dynamic range is like spreading butter over too much bread). So make sure that you have enough lighting to begin with.
The second reason you need lots of light is because of the tricks we're going to use when photographing the miniature (notably setting a low ISO value and choosing a minuscule aperture), which all require more light than normal to hit the camera.
I usually use a deskside light with a daylight bulb (by which I paint as well) immediately above the miniature, with occasionally a flashlight (with a white cloth across the buisness end to diffuse the light) for extra spot lighting. However, in most cases, that is usually not enough light, so I have to _massage_ the photos afterward in an image editing program, which as said leads to mixed results. When I have my wargame room in the new house set up, I'll include a small stage for miniature photography with some extra lighting, but for now, I'll continue the way I'm working at the moment.
BTW, do not use the camera's built in flash. It does provide enough light, but it does not lead to good results. It usually leads to overexposed highlights, which takes quite some work to correct afterwards (the dynamic range is skewed to one side). Also, with a builtin flash as my camera has, it is impossible to avoid quite stark shadows as evident in the picture below. To give you an idea, The composite picture below show a miniature I photographed with flash (left) and with other lighting (right). Note that the blueish tint of the flash photographed miniature is an artifact, as the white balance of the camera was set to the value for the other lighting -- the blue tint is not inherent to flash photography. Also note that the photo on the right could use more light -- this was one of the very first miniature pics I took, so I was (and still am) still learning.
![Flash vs no flash](/snv/ttm/pics/flash_nonflash_comparison.jpg)
That's it for part 1. Next up will be some specific camera settings (ISO value, aperture, focus, white balance) I use, and why.
* [Part 1 - Lighting](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000035.html) -- You are here
* [Part 2 - Camera settings](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000038.html)
* [Part 3 - Post processing](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000054.html)
* [Part 4 - Stage setup](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000132.html)
Saturday, 30 October 2004
Operation SHIELD FRIENDLY handout
450K PDF document
Friday, 29 October 2004
Since (http://www.nirya.be/snv/GALLERY/crisis97.html) we have presented a participation game at every Crisis, so that makes this year's game our eighth big Crisis game. Until a few years ago, each year saw extensive preparations for these games, usually starting with several Saturdays' worth of terrain creation over at BD's parents.
The last time we did this kind of all out preparation, in effect creating an entirely new terrain set, was in 2001, with our [Zeebrugge](http://www.nirya.be/snv/zeebrugge/zeebrugge.html) game. This game was very well received, winning the Best Terrain prize (which we still have to claim :) ), but very narrowly missing out on the Best Presented Wargame trophy (although many people, not in the least ourselves :), thought we really deserved it). Possibly partly because of this, but mostly through lack of time and real life developments taking place (most of us had by then moved on from a comfortable responsibility-light student existence to various next stages in life) the games after this, including this year's, have seen less extensive and time consuming preparation.
In 2002 we staged a recap of our 2000 ACW game, on a bigger terrain, and 2003 saw the shortest preparation ever: our [Woodens](http://www.nirya.be/snv/woodens/woodens.html) [in the desert](http://www.nirya.be/snv/woodens/woodendesert.html) game took literally only two hours of preparation. Admittedly, those two hours were spent in Phil's kitchen sawing MDF boards to shape for the terrain; I did not stick around for the vacuum cleaning afterwards, so Phil might have a different idea on the time involved :).
This year, we (mostly Phil and myself, but there was a flurry of activity on the [mailing list](http://www.yahoogroups.com/group/int_brigade) after the initial announcement) had big plans for constructing a totally new type of game to take to Crisis. Unfortunately, building a house and having a daughter born has taken some toll on my free time, and we decided to postpone this to next year.
So, this year will see another recap of one our our old favourites: Zeebrugge, only this time, it will be set in 1944. Preparation has limited itself to painting up some new figures and terrain items (hence the appearance of British paras on the sidebar), along with coming up with some fringe paraphernalia such as handouts, posters to hang up on the backdrop plus some new stuff that will remain a surprise for now (don't get too excited, though).
Even though we're taking a recycled game (again), we still hope to be noticed at Crisis and will try to uphold the standard that people have come to expect of us (that last one can, of course, be interpreted in two ways :) ). The game will be full participation, so if anyone is reading this and is interested in joining in on the day, you are more than welcome to do so. See you all at Crisis!
Wednesday, 27 October 2004
After experiments with home-invented boardgames, it was time to go to the more serious stuff. This happened when I was about 14 or 15, and took the form of board wargames, most notable Avalon Hill games.
I still remember the first AH game I played was Afrika Korps, which remained a favourite for many years. Others from that period: Tactics II, The Russian Campaign, Fortress Europe, PanzerLeader, Sicily '43, East vs West, and of course Rise and Decline of the 3rd Reich. Especially this last game provided us with hours of enjoyment, spending weeks in the garage during the school holidays to finish it. I'm still amazed that as 15 year old teenagers, we managed to understand the rather complex AH prose, being non-native English speakers. On the other hand, we probably played the game completely wrong ;-).
From this period, I sold many games, but I still have a few left (mostly because of the memories). I also de remember we tried to come up with variant rules for many of our games, trying to "improve" them. We even started working on a game about WW3, played on a large map of the entire world.
During my senior year in high school, I visited the Tin Soldier shop in Sint-Niklaas. Before that, all our games came from the Club bookstore in Leuven (they sold games back then), or WH Smith in Brussels. The idea was to buy another historical wargame, but I came back with Time Tripper, a SF game published by SPI. This was my first SF/F game, and I was pretty much hooked from that point on. Follow-up games were War of the Ring (also by SPI, which now seems to be quite a collectible), Valley of the Four Winds, and finally, the 1st edition of Warhammer (1983), which for the first time meant we were reading miniature wargaming rules.
Monday, 25 October 2004
These are the facts as reported: Stonewall Figures sold someone figures that were probably pirated from existing AB Figures. Whether it was Stonewall themselves that did this copying, or whether they were sold AB figures that they themselves thought to be genuine by an unscrupulous third party is not clear, and is apparently under investigation (if that is what is meant by the phrasing _the Office of Fair Trading in the U.K. has taken appropriate action_).
It is a mystery to me why, in the low profile and low -- if any -- profit margin venture that is the wargame figure business for most traders out there, somebody would not only copy another person's work, but also try to make some money out of it. This seems entire counter productive; for the meager pennies you are making out of the selling of pirated figures, you might well run a legitimate trader out of business. This is not [Games Workshop](http://uk.games-workshop.com) we're talking about, but one of the many historical figure manufacturers whose business is basically an outgrown hobby, and is just barely profitable at best, or operating at a significant loss at worst. It just makes no sense trying to pirate their figures: there's no money in it, and you are actually hurting the hobby. (Please note that you should not read the above statement as an encouragement to copy GW figures. Do not copy material you are not allowed to copy.)
I have bought some stuff off of Stonewall Figures before (one of their Rapid Fire Battalion packs and some Old Glory 25mm Ancients which they occasionally carry to shows), but I think I shall refrain from buying from them until this particular bit of unpleasantness has been cleared up.
__UPDATE__ 26/10/2004: It seems that [FAA USA](http://www.figuresarmourartilleryusa.com/) [has dropped Stonewall as their European distributor](http://theminiaturespage.com/news/792701/). The story is convoluted, but there is the implication that Stonewall (or someone selling through Stonewall) has been recasting FAA figures in quite a shoddy way. The plot thickens...
Sunday, 24 October 2004
The fact that TTM now attracts comments spammers tells me two things:
* There are very desperate people out there. Surely there are better blogs to target than that of a bunch of Belgium based toy soldier people.
* TTM is being read outside of our own inner circle, apparently.
We're growing up...
__UPDATE__ 25/10/2004 - the number of comment spams (not counting Rudi's below :) ) has risen quite steeply, so I've installed [MTBlacklist](http://www.jayallen.org/projects/mt-blacklist/), which has already netted several spams since installing it yesterday evening. If you ever make a comment that is rejected (you should get a message to this effect) and you think the rejection is unjustified, [contact me](mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org) and I'll see what we can do to get your comment in.
Thursday, 21 October 2004
Instead, I started to map out a scenario for an alternative 1940. Actually, I didn't map but wrote, because I was sitting next to my boss and decided not to draw attention by drawing little rivers and trees and mountains.
So what did I come up with? Basically the setting for a solo campaign, starting with a bold and powerful Prussian Empire, who will be powerful and strict but not nasty or nazi, thus removing that slightly uncomfortable aspect of WW2 gaming. They have their greedy eyes on the rich but feeble, and last re;aining free continental power, Platteland (ie Dutch types - why because I foolishly bought and painted masses of Dutch 1940 figs last year and I want to use them on the table). Across the sea lies noble Albion, about to suffer a general election upset and the coming to power of a new government who, I sincerely hope, will go to war with the Prusskies. A continent way, separated by sea, is the workers paradise of Rusland, whose agents are interfering splendidly in the Albion province of Rhum, where strikes are rife.
Well that's the setting. I think I will keep a campaign diary, with big events described and occasional decisions made, perhaps resorting to a percentage die roll (two D10s - one for the tens and one for the ones). Or maybe I'll ask you guy to vote.
Then there will be the tabletop battles. I have a nice 1940 collection of Brits, Germans (I mean Prussians) and Dutch (you know what I mean). Some I'll do solo. Maybe. That way I can also test out my new terrain that I'm making. Others I'll use as the basis for scenarios for the group.
I've been meaning to do this for ages. If Steve is reading then he will spot the Lone Warrior influence. LW is the journal of the Solo Wargamers Association, of which Steve was once the revered and honourable Big Cheese. I have some back issues of the magazine, with great ideas for this type of solo campaign.
So watch out for the first conflict, a German incursion into the wooded borderlands (I know they're wooded because I just made two woods) where they will meet heavy Dutch resistance.
And in the meantime, what will be the general election result be. Goshm it's so exciting.
It arrived in the mail today, and I briefly skimmed through it over lunch. First impressions are that it's a fairly hefty tome, being thicker than most wargames rules booklets (about double the thickness of [Rapid Fire](http://www.rapid-fire.uk.com), if you want to have a reference point). The first bit covers the rules and is lavishly illustrated with in game photos demonstrating the rule mechanisms in question. The layout of this is fairly unimaginative, with a single column of photos alongside the text, but it is refreshing to see these kind of illustrative photos in a wargames publication, where usually we should be happy if we get line drawings illustrating a few salient points here and there.
The rest of the book is made up of army lists covering one of the most wide selections of theaters and nations I have encountered so far in single volume WWII rules -- they even include Belgians! Finally, at the end of the book there's a few pages of manufacturers ads and a few references to web pages on WWII and its theatres of war. This is no less as what we would expect, considering the fact that the rules hail from a miniature wargaming directory site.
Well, that's all I have been able to glean from the book so far, as duty called me away from it before long. I'll put up a proper review of the rules after I've read the book, and after I've played a game with them.