Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Romano British pedites

Since I've decided to [paint a bit faster](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000248.html) I also decided to group miniatures to have their photos taken. As that leads to a lower frequency of pictures being posted, I've decided to put them up as real posts, under the new [Wet Paint category](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/cat_wet_paint.html), in addition to posting them on Flickr.

The entries in question, like this one will be mostly pictures only, with the occasional comment. To wit:

Romano British pedites unit 1

The impossibly big banner is made out of cloth (cutoffs of an Ikea curtain, if you must know).

Romano British pedites

Comments are open.

Thursday, 22 February 2007

Flames of War - my Soviet army

Bart asked me to write up a piece on the army that I have built up for Flames of War. So, here we are, and first, a few words on the game system. Flames of War is basically a company level game, with a design a little reminiscent of WHAB - simple basic mechanisms but lots of chrome and special rules to reflect specifics of individual armies. It works very well. The games are short, violent and often funny.

The rule-set is brilliantly supported by Battlefront, the publisher. It produces the figures (very nice quality 15mm) and armour (the models are made from a mix of resin and metal), packaged in platoon or company packs, with the bases you need and painting guides. The website gives a lot more background, including profiles of different units, guides to putting together the models, lots of photos of painted miniatures, etc. - all extremely useful. They have also worked with Vallejo to provide sets of suitable paints, which again is pretty helpful.

Some might complain that this approach makes it too easy, or takes the fun out of building the army. In a way, this is true, but you have to acknowledge that it is a winning method and will certainly be instrumental in attracting people to historical wargames. You can now buy, effectively, a box with rules, army organisation and lists, paints and a painting guide.

In the same way as WHAB uses 2000 points armies, DBM uses 400 points armies etc., FOW has a system of army lists (those who are allergic to lists can simply use them as a helpful guide to putting scenarios together) that provide for 1500 point armies that slug it out over a 6x4 foot (2x1.2 m) table. The game system currently supports three theatres of war:

- Russian front 1942-3
- North Africa
- 1944 Western Front.

For each theatre, there are a series of gamebooks listing the available armies. Each army has its own characteristics and special rules. I have always wanted a Soviet army, having a slight soft spot I suppose for the command economy and dialectical materialism, so the choice was easy.

Having selected the country, what sort of army? The army list books define different types of company - an infantry company, an armoured company or a reconnaissance company for example. I personally think that if you're playing WW2, you better have tanks, so I decided to build a soviet armoured unit.

The soviets in FOW are characterised, not unreasonably, as 'conscript (ie cheap, difficult to control, very vulnerable) but fearless (easy to rally even when taking casualties). This means you get vast numbers of them - where for a German army you have a company, for a soviet army you have nearly a battalion, but they are pretty unmanoeuverable and are very inflexible. For instance, a German panzer can dance rings around them, can move, shoot and then, potentially move again. A soviet tank can barely move and fire in the same turn, which is very limiting.

The heart of the army is two tank companies and of course, the T34 provides the backbone. I have one company of 7 T34s plus a company of 6 T70 light tanks. These latter are quite pretty and fast, but very vulnerable to enemy fire, having little armour to speak of.


Originally uploaded by ahuyton.

To back these up, are tank riding infantry with supporting machine guns plus a medium mortar company (these are cheap and very effective in the rules). Additional options that I have available, are heavy KV1 tanks (brutal things), Katyushas (fun but vulnerable - enemy artillery can automatically home in on them if the Katyushas fire), BA64 armoured cars, anti tank rifles and heavy mortars.


Originally uploaded by ahuyton.

Overall, I think, my favourite selection is:

* A Cin C with supporting AA machine guns
* A company of T34s, to provide a fast and reasonably hard hitting shock weapon
* A company of T70s, cheaply bought and handy backup to the other tanks
* A company of 3 KV1e, which even German tanks find difficult to shoot up.
* One platoon of infantry + mg to seize woods, buildings etc
* A medium mortar platoon plus spotter to try to pin enemy infantry or guns
* A reconnaissance unit of light armoured cars, which I think serves little purpose, but I think they're quite fun little models.

I have played three games with them, and lost each one, they are really quite difficult to control. At least that's my excuse.

I can unreservedly recommend the system and everything that goes with it, it has all the elements of a good,well thought out system that works and is properly supported. For the Belgian readers, L'Antre Jeux in Brussels sells all the stuff, including all the paints.

I now have 3000 points worth of Soviets, enough to start varied scenario games as well as giving me different options in the tournaments style games (yes there is a FOW tournament scene). Next, I want to paint up an opponent for them, and have decided, perhaps perversely, to go for a Finnish army - a very different affair. Elite troops, so few in number and with little armour to speak of. I hope it will make for an interesting match up.

_Update_ (robartes): added some formatting, removed big white space after first photo

Wednesday, 21 February 2007

Currently painting

It's time for another 'what I'm painting' entry. Currently on my painting table are two groups of figures:

* The 'one offs'. These are a mix of stuff, which I started painting mostly because I ran out of other prepared figures to paint and had to root around in my boxes for things that had been prepped already. Currently in this set are a fantasy figure, a pack donkey, a Foundry Plains Indian and two Darkest Africa figs, one bearer and one askari. All of these are in various stages of (un)completion. Most of the work is however going to:

* Gripping Beast Arthurian figures. This has a lot to do with the new [Age of Arthur](http://www.warhammer-historical.com/arthur/arthur.asp) book, of course. Basically, I scrounged up my last stash of unpainted GB Arthurian infantry -- just enough to make up, together with some rebasing of figures painted earlier, another 24 man Pedyt unit. Currently, 14 figures have been painted (although I cheated on 6 of them, as they had been painted almost 10 years ago), 3 of which have been seen in [photographs](http://www.flickr.com/photos/robartes/sets/72157594504636640/) already. The next batch will be photographed once their leader, who's currently on the painting desk and about halfway done, has been painted. I'm basing twelve of the unit's figures 6 each on a 6x4cm base, so I'm photographing them when these two bases are done. After that, it's another 9 singly based figures (three of which are half completed) to complete the unit.

After the GB Arthurians are done, I'll switch to another unit (I'm beginning to like unit painting [lately](http://www.nirya.be/snv/ttm/archives/000248.html) ) -- probably either Carolingians or Napoleonic Chasseurs à Cheval. As to that last: I made the mistake of reading [Baron de Marbot's memoirs](http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/2401) and now find myself curiously urged to paint the 23rd Chasseurs and per extension the whole of II Corps in 1812. Oh my.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

"Oil Wiping" horses using acrylics

One technique to paint horses, described among others in Kevin Dallimore's [Foundry book](http://www.wargamesfoundry.com/books/kevsbook/index.asp), is the 'oil wiping' technique. It involves using dark oil paint (hence the _oil_ part) that is painted all over the horse and then wiped off (and there's the _wipe_ part) of most of the horse again, leaving the oil paint only in the recesses of the model. This creates an instant realistic shading which is hard to reproduce with more standard techniques.

The two properties of oil paint that are exploited by this technique are its long drying time (if you tried this with acrylics, they probably will have dried on the model before you wiped them off) and the fact that in thin enough layers it is translucent, so you get a sort of blended effect.

The disadvantages of the technique are those of oil paint: messier to clean up (and you shouldn't really chuck turps or white spirit down the drain, so there's that problem as well) and it takes a long time to dry. And not everyone has a ready stash of oil paints lying around (they tend to be expensive, too).

So, thought I, [Vallejo](http://www.acrylicosvallejo.com) to the rescue! In addition to the colors themselves, the Model Colour series also includes a few other items, two of which I've used to recreate the oil wipe technique using acrylics. The products I've used for this are matt medium (540) and drying retarder (597). The matt medium is basically the liquid that carries the pigment in the paints themselves (the paints are, reduced to their essence, a mixture of medium, binder and pigment), and the retarder is a chemical (some glycerine derivative, but I could be wrong there) that extends the drying time of the paint.

These two agents combined and added to normal paint result in the same properties as the oil paint (more or less): longer drying time (the retarder) and slight translucency (more like less covering power really, the medium). As we say in Dutch, tadaa!

To put my pixels where my mouth is, here's a picture of a horse shaded using this technique. The horse base colour is Flat Brown (984), which was shaded with a 1:1:1 mixture of Dark Brown (822) : retarder : medium. The shade coat was painted all over the horse (literally) and then wiped of with a peacepiece of tissue. This is the result:

"Oil wiped" horse painting technique with acrylics

Some of the basecoat has been wiped off where bits of metal protrude from the model (bad cleaning of the model), so I'll give this a quick drybrush with Flat Brown again to touch up. Otherwise, not a bad result, I'd say.

Thursday, 8 February 2007

Memorable gaming moments

When we think of past games some of them just tend to stick out, while others are simply forgotten. These games, which make it onto your memory hard drive, are sometimes the results of good planning and a clever scenario twist by the gamemaster but sometimes they are simply the result of dismal bad or freaky good luck. Here are some of my favourite moments:

BartV had planned a WWII desert game in which two players would look over the table, spot the enemy and do the minor manoeuvring while two other players acted as supreme commanders, sitting in an adjacent room who planned general manoeuvring, off board artillery fire etc. Before the game each team had bitter little time to draft a crude map of the terrain board on which the commander could direct his moves. I acted as commander in the field and together with my general we decided at the last instant to ad markers at key points on the map so we could easily assign artillery fire. Communication between office and field went by brief notes which passed through the game master (who rolled and checked if the message arrived in time, got delayed or got lost)
Anyway, at some point during the game my opponent positioned his troops on one of our preassigned artillery spots (point alpha) so I sent in a request for artillery fire. The next turn nothing happened so, presuming the order got lost or delayed, I repeated my request. In the mean time my own troops were coming under heavy artillery fire so I was getting desperate! My opponent was still firmly lodged on point alpha though so yet again I called in artillery hoping that this time the order would pass after already 2 failed attempts! But yet again, no artillery shells were hitting my opponent while my troops took some more enemy fire... this was when I realised that I was positioned on our preassigned point x (yes we named them x,y,z and alpha, beta, gamma, we were in a hurry remember) and my general had mistaken my hastily scribbled alpha for an x ! Never again was the fog of war this well captured :-)

Again during a WWII game I was playing the German commander. I was a happy German commander as among my troops was the dreaded annihilator of tin cans, the infamous flak88 gun. When this beauty entered the field (on my left side of the table) right on the spot where my opponent was planning his major tank putsch I could see the colour strip from his face. He immediately started to do some frantic major redeploying while I did some major gloating. The gloating lasted till turn two when the umpire (BartV you bastard ;-)) passed me an order from my NPC supreme commander stating that the flak88 should strengthen the (off-board) eastern front immediately!. The entire game the flak88 was seen making its way to the right side of the board. Causing serious bewilderment to my opponent who was franticly trying to make out what the hell I was planning, all the time adapting his plans to the ever changing flak88’s position... until it disappeared off board that is. The look on his face was priceless :-)

So what are your memorable moments?


It seems that in a flurry of spam fighting, I accidentally deleted the last 10 real comments to this blog. No sinister doings going on, nor is censorship being applied. Just me pushing buttons before a decent dose of caffeine has entered my bloodstream. Sorry about that.

Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Why I like Warhammer Ancient Battles

I can't hide it anymore - I like [Warhammer Ancient Battles](http://www.warhammer-historical.com). Yes, its name starts with Warhammer, and yes, it comes from what many think of as the Evil Empire (capitalisation intentional) of miniature wargaming, but I think it's exactly the right ruleset to play ancients with for me. Let me explain why.

Way back when, I used to play DBM. Even though I became moderately good at it, and still have a large amount of 15mm Ancients figures collected with DBM in mind, I could never escape a certain feeling of unease at it (read more [here](/snv/ttm/archives/000023.html)). Was it the 'equal points and line up' attitude, the fact that armies from a time span of well over twenty centuries were supposed to fight each other (although that's a general ancients period thing, not strictly DBM), the competitive streak DBM seems to bring out in a certain type of gamer (yes, I have participated in competitions too), I do not know. Whatever it was, I think it is telling that the period I was heavily involved in DBM was that in which the Schild en Vriend crowd was in hibernation in various parts of the world - I just haven't figured out quite what it is telling me though :)

All that changed with the arrival of WAB. It took me a while to play it, for various reasons, but I liked what I saw when I did. For the rest of this entry, I'll list some of the reasons why I like the ruleset.

### Figure scale

Of course, as with any ruleset including DBM, WAB can be played with any scale of figures you want, but the prevailing culture in WAB land is to play with 28mm figures, the One True Scale. While other scales can provide a more realistic look of massed armies (6mm comes to mind, with its collection of [evangelists](http://www.baccus6mm.com)) or better tradeoff between cost and visual appeal (15mm), the King of scales for me remains 28mm. There's a particular appeal to having a bunch of 28mils on the table that I find particularly attractive. 15mm and lower does not do the same for me. And if you like the painting side of the hobby, 28mils are more satisfying as well.

### Supplements

Ah, supplements - a touchy subject. One of the reasons GW is maligned in certain corners is its rampant 'supplementitis'. There's a supplement for every army, and they're usually updated every few years, locking you into a buy-buy-buy circle just to stay up to date. WAB also has supplements for various periods. The basic rulebook gives you just some stats for Romans and 'Barbarians' (Celts for the rest of us), plus a few armies that used to be in Armies of Antiquity but are not (yet) covered by their own supplement. Other than that, there's the supplements.

WAB supplements tend to be organised along periods: there's a supplement for chariot age (middle eastern bronze age) warfare, one on the Byzantine period, one on the Late Roman period, etc. Each supplement, though later more than earlier, has lots of interesting information in addition to the army lists for the various armies represented: bits on the history of the period (albeit in severely potted form), collecting and painting appropriate figures, wargaming tactics and usually some scenarios and other things. The latest supplement, Age of Arthur, is particularly good in this regard (though that's for another post).

Nothing new so far, but the real refreshing thing with these supplements is the fact that the armies in them are intended to be balanced *only against each other*. Disadvantages of points systems aside (yet another post, there), you can expect an X point army from supplement A to be more or less evenly matched against another X point army from supplement A but not against an X point army from supplement B. This, combined with the period focus of the supplements results in a wargame culture where, instead of Bronze Age Egyptians taking the field against Later Burgundian Ordonnance lobsters, focus is on in period gaming, something that can only be applauded IMO.

### Production

As compared to the majority of rules publications on 'our side' of the hobby, the production quality of the books is just stunning, with good printing, good layout and stunning photographs (wargamer's porn) abound. Granted, not everyone has the same amount of financial oomph as GW, but when even a single person such as Pete Jones can produce good quality rulebooks ([Blitzkrieg and Cold War Commander](http://www.blitzkrieg-commander.com)), the monochrome, dense type, not an illustration in sight type of publication is a real let down for a bunch of wargamers for whom 'Visual Appeal is Everything'.

### It's oodles of fun

The main reason I like WAB however, is that it's quite simply a good game of toy soldiers. Face it, we're only pretending to recreate history through simulated engagements on the table top or studying models of nation state interactions in times of crisis. In reality, we're all just boys (and girls) playing with our toy soldiers again. And that's just what WAB provides: a game of toy soldiers with an historical flavour.

Right, that's it - comments are open (although the commenter going by the nom de plume of _wet thong_ is asked to kindly refrain from commenting)!