EXCERPT FROM APPENDIX 1 from Don Featherstone's Battles With Model Soldiers
(The book that got me started.)

"Nothing in these pages is a dictate, no word says you must or you shall do it this way. On the contrary, the book sets out from the very beginning to stimulate the reader to think for himself, and to use what he has read merely as a foundation for efforts and ideas which reflect his own temperament and character. Only in this way will he obtain maximum satisfaction from the hobby of battling with model soldiers."

-Don Featherstone 1918 - 2013

Friday, November 4, 2011

As fair as these green hills may be

They're not my land's hills.

( click here for those not familiar with the reference, a Scottish Soldier is a song that was popular on the juke box in the Black Watch armoury when I was a Cadet though I'm a still a little iffy on exactly when this Scottish soldier with his trusty piper beside him lay dying on a Tyrolian hillside. According to Wikipedia, the tune as a pipe tune dates back to the Crimean war but is adapted from an opera air itself based on an Alpine folk tune which would explain the Tyrol bit but not why a Highland soldier should lie dying there.) .

For me, the decision to go with single glossy toy soldiers meant that I needed to replace my aging foam slopes or cloth over shapes with flat contour hills, partly for thematic consistency but mostly because single 40mm metal figures just don't stand well on steep slopes.

I could have used various materials but as life would have it, a change in domestic arrangements 2 years ago when we agreed to have my 88 year old mother-in-law  move in, led me to evacuate my previous wargames room in progress for the current smaller one. This left me with about 30 running feet of surplus pine shelving painted in a bright green. Some 5 or 6 foot lengths, other pieces being shorter off cuts from when I shortened various 8' shelves to fit the new space. Prepaid hills!

They need a bit of work though. The second step is going to be easy, they need to be painted to match my table which itself needs to be repainted. A job for a winter afternoon. While I am at it, I'll be looking for a lighter shade of green. I must have spent too long in the city, looking at grass up close and playing on felt sheets. It was a bit of revelation when I started to really look at the hills around here and to see just how bright a green they are, even in the early fall. Now, I'm not saying that all hills everywhere are this green all year round. I well remember getting used to the brown hills of some parts of BC in mid summer, but if I'm going to have a fictional land, it might just as well resemble the world I see around me now.

The hard part is going to be deciding on shapes and sizes. After studying various options and checking various OSW books for inspiration, I have come up with several options to consider (now that I've abandoned my hex trials for the near future at least).:

1. Cut out various stack-able, vaguely oval, shapes of different sizes, some cut in half to fit on an edge. This is more or less what Charles Grant's books show and is something I have done in the past, though never before with vertical edges that I can recall. This is one of the simplest methods to use but it is might be the most limiting unless I build up and store a huge selection of hill shapes .

2. Collect a large number of small rectangles and use them pixel-like  to create hills of the desired shape. This method allows for almost any piece to be used in any game thus avoiding sorting through stacks of hills looking for the right shape but it also means sharp angles, straight lines and a lot of seams. My refight of Hooks Farm was the first time that I can recall using rectangular hills (usually books) without throwing a cloth over them to soften the outline. I was surprised last weekend when I deployed rectangular hills again that I didn't mind the right angled hills.  This option could also be made compatible with a square grid.

3. Something along the lines of what HG Wells proposed in the appendix to Little Wars. A mix of  squares and triangles with 2 straight sides and a curved side, some convex, some concave. The straight sides to match the sides of the squares. If done right, this could allow a wide variety of hill shapes. If not done right or without enough pieces, it would be even more limiting than the first option.

I think I need a miniature Topographical Engineering Section to sort this out. Maybe I should paint one up. Where is Captain Lee when you need him anyway?




  1. I too remember this song - and indeed it's many er, unofficial variants. The lyrics are here http://www.incallander.co.uk/scottishsongs/song13.htm, where you can also listen to it being sung. All together now.....

  2. Yes, somehow dying on a foreign hill while the pipes played seemed so romantic then.

  3. In the past I've made small paper mockups for determining shapes for terrain pieces.

  4. A Scottish bagpiper friend of mine was over this evening and I asked him about the song. Her recognized it right away.

    He didn't know the historical source because as he said, Scots fought with so many forces . . . but particularly with the French.

    I doubt that that helps much, but it might.

    -- Jeff

  5. Thanks Jeff, I don't know if Andy Stewart was an amateur historian as well as an entertainer but I rather suspect that he didn't have any particular war in mind when he wrote the Scottish Soldier lyrics in 1960 and just went with Tyrol because thats what the pipe tune was called.