Wednesday, August 31, 2011

From the archives: Pontiac's Rebellion at Cold Wars 08

If you exclude the bit about me trying to pawn off some boxes of 54mm Airfix WWII Russian infantry at Cold Wars 97, which first put us in contact, it was really MacDuff who put Rob Dean and myself together. Rob and Chris Palmer had been been casting up and converting 40mm Prince August and Meisterzinn figures and were looking for a suitable set of French & Indian War rules for doing Grant Teasers when the Courier published MacDuff.  Since we were already in contact by email and I was planning to be at Cold Wars again, I was  invited to take part in a planned game, a version of Wagon Train if memory serves (or maybe I invited myself, I don't actually remember).  I don't have a picture of the 1998 game, (incidently that was the same Cold Wars where I played my first NQSYW game and decided to try out this home casting thing,)  but here are some shots of the last (or latest rather ) of the MacDuff games we have staged. It was a scenario inspired by the action of Bloody Run during Pontiac's Rebellion.  

Its quiet.......too quiet! (Well apart from the fifer and drummer.)

Essentially this was an attempt by the British to surprise one of the Indian camps. The game was laid out with no Indians on table and the British under orders to march down the table, carry out a mission and return.

The figures are largely Rob Dean's as well as some by Chris Palmer and a handful of my Indians. Most are homecast including many, many conversions but Irregular and some Sash & Saber are beginning to make their way into the mix. The terrain is largely Rob's apart from a few cabins, fences and crops.

The Indians have of course, been tipped off and are waiting though judging by the way the fifers and drummers in the main column seem to be happily rattling and tootling away, they probably didn't need advance warning.

Take the bridge!  Major Robert Rogers leads the way.

I had adjusted the rules once again since the last game and once again had not had adequate occasion to play test thoroughly although the guinea.p...err I mean lads, in Halifax, played out the scenario as an AWI one. Mostly, I was pretty happy with how that version worked but it wasn't quite as exciting as some earlier versions and there was one unsettling optical glitch. The Rangers were surrounded and all but wiped out by Indians in hand to hand combat only to reappear en masse when the remainder rallied. In theory that meant that they had broken, evaded avoiding actual combat and then been rallied. In practice they had been woefully unlucky in melee and shockingly lucky on the rally rolls and the whole thing looked and felt wrong and led to yet more tinkering.

Indians to the front, flank and rear! Thank heavens the time is up!

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

At the Captain's Bed and Battle

Ahh the exciting potential of being young and starting a new life in a new city!

Luckily there is still much to be said for being middle aged and enjoying the company of long time friends and playing games.

That's me on the left. (sic)

After a pleasant  hour or so reviewing Rob's current armies (including some old friends), his painting table and lead pile, and accepting his offer of a painted 25mm Darius and a couple of Persian chariots as well as some spare back issues of the Courier, (best wargame magazine yet imho) we got down to it.

Rob's place is a traditional Montreal flat so no basement game room with an 8 foot long table but a nice big, comfortable kitchen table. While the fringes of Irene blew past us, we started off with Wings of War with Les & I ganging up on Rob. This was followed by 2 games of TransAmerica, a railroad boardgame by Rio Grande and last but not least, my first games of Hordes of The Things. These saw Rob & I team up against Les. Largely human 15mm armies on both sides, though Les's troops were a little more fleshy than ours.  I confess that I did enjoy these games.

 Out looking for new recruits.

Thank you Les for the invite to come along and thank you Rob for your hospitality.


Friday, August 26, 2011

MacDuff Retires from the Web

Due to primarily to cuts in the Defence Budget, With MacDuff on the Web will cease to exist on or about Sept 2nd. 2011.

It has moved hosts about 3 times but has been around since about 1997, in the days of dial up modems, scanners for printed photos, rgmh and onelist email groups - the predecessor to yahoo.

1 or 2 bits have been grafted into my blog but the rest is being consigned to oblivion (and back up files).
Also anyone still having my old or email addresses, please delete them. My only valid email address at this time is

Anyway, everyone is welcome to have a last troll through.

Battening the Hatches and Abandoning Ship.

Last week I got an invite to ride shotgun on a weekend trip to Montreal (my native city which I have not visited in 15 or so years) . The plan includes a stay over at the Captain's Bed & Battle so I figured why not?. 12 - 14 hours of chatting about wargames, history and what not each way with pizza and a wargame at the other end  and no chores or renovations to boot.

Then along comes Irene, blowing up the American coast. Should be down to a tropical storm by the time she gets this far north and looks likely to veer inland and all but miss Nova Scotia  but I've just secured the lawn furniture and what not, made sure my wife has food, water and oil lamps just in case and tomorrow morning I bolt. hmm if it veers inland we may have to drive through it on the way back. Oh well, duty to an old friend and all that.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Adjusting Plans

I do seem to be floundering a bit this year, not quite sure which way to paddle. I was just settling in nicely to my ancients, rules, organization, basing and setting all sorted and some figures on the table, when my belated birthday present to me showed up. Ancients, what ancients?

The first distraction is for a minor side project, 18thC Portable Turks to face some Minifig Austrians. Since I was putting in an order to Historifigs anyway, I got a few samples of suitable 25 mm Scruby figures with the idea of possibly expanding into their Napoleon in Egypt range.

Left, Scruby 25mm French Infantry, right one of my homemade Albanians.

Hmm, well, the Scruby looks very compatible with 1/72nd plastics. If only I hadn't tried to make my Turks look as compatible as I could to middle Minifigs.Oh well, it was a passing thought. 

 Left to right: Scruby on Hat, Hat mamluke, Scruby, PA conversion, Scruby on Minifig, PA.

I was a  little surprised when I found out how much taller my Prince August home cast horses were compared to Minifig wide-rump horses. (Doesn't show well in the picture but my light cavalry would make Ron's Horse Grenadiers look like they are riding ponies) Since my plan had been to use converted PA for the project it had stymied me and I stopped at the 1 sample. As you can see the Scrubies go very well with the Hat Mamlukes.They also look pretty comfortable on the Minifig horse.

Hmm I wonder if the hobby shop in Halifax still has those Zvezda Turks that I almost bought in June,,,,,
1 box each of cavalry and Jannisaries would close this project off once painted.

So much for the minor sideshow.

I've been deliberately avoiding my main interest for 2 months to let things percolate. There are several main issues, but the biggest one is a result of downsizing my table, something that I obviously haven't fully resolved in my mind. Sometimes I wish that I could really "get into" skirmish games with a handful of figures, or a high level element based game, or get into 10mm, and I might yet do any or all of those. In the mean time,   I've been trying to translate a vague vision in my head which involves a whole bunch of 40 mm figures, onto a 30 square foot table.

Two years ago, I experimented  with squishing eight 40mm figures onto a 60mm wide base. To my surprise, most of the figures fit quite well. the problem was, with the element based rules I was using, it just decreased the number of maneuver and fire elements allowing me to get less from more. The 8 man bases were also awkward for using some form of roster or marking hits. A week or so ago, while fiddling about with a few figures trying to decide what should constitute a scenario "unit" and how that related to an historical refight, I noticed to my great surprise that the couple of not yet based Scruby figures that I was pushing about were perfectly stable. More stable than some of my individually based S&S figures. It occurred to me belatedly that my initial trials on individual bases for 40mm troops had been conducted primarily with S&S figures on thin-ish card bases on a cloth covered table.  Some experiments followed  and it soon became clear that on my painted tabletop with its new flat hills, most of my own, Zinnbrigade and Scruby figures were fairly comfortable on 1/2" frontage and almost all were very comfortable on a 15mm frontage.  This means that I don't have to choose between a tighter formation or individual basing after all.

In front: a 24 man unit on my usual 23mm wide washers. Behind: a 32 man unit on 15mm frontage.

My original 1812 organization called for 4x8man companies, each company including an officer. That's a rather high ratio of officers but it worked fairly well except that 8 men was too many to be a company and too few to be anything else. The main problem was that it took up too much room on my table. Essentially, each scenario "unit" became a "company", or occasionally 2 companies. 

This morning I pulled a few memoirs off the shelf, mostly 1812 & Indian Mutiny, to look for some context. Even though written by Subalterns, it was hard to find skirmishes where individual companies played a role.  Suddenly my preference for "traditional" games with battalions as units made sense. Even a small action like the Battle of Mackinac Island  seem better as small battalions of regulars and "companies" of Indians than as a bunch of companies.

Turning back to scales and frontages, with a 12" musket range representing somewhere between 120 and 200 yds, I can reasonably fudge a man on a 15 mm frontage as representing between 10 and 20 men in a single rank So for a raid, a 16 man "wing" might be as few as 160 men or a full 32 man battalion might be 640.  With a frontage now less than 10", the 8 battalions needed for the largest scenarios would make for a crowded table but they could work while smaller forces of 3 or 4 battalions would still be a worth while force.   Now that makes sense to me. Looks good, fits, and is flexible.

I did considerable pondering today on various shapes of  multi-figure bases but also hauled out some of my experimental movement trays and some surplus peel and stick flexible steel bottoms. The thought of taking scarce funds to buy wooden bases that would be firm and not warp so that the singles would stand plus flexible steel bottoms and magnetic sheeting for trays was not attractive, thus the search for a suitable configuration of multi-figure base that would cut costs by 2/3rds.  I was strongly attracted  to 2 man bases which could be deployed as pairs of skirmishers  or grouped onto movement trays without need of magnets but I proceeded  to recheck the magnetic bases anyway. Taking some of the flexible steel, I cut these to a nice 15mm x 25mm rectangle and applied them directly to a few figures since I didn't have any suitable individual bases on hand. Looking at them, I realized that the nice big, flat Scruby bases were almost the right size. By trimming the flexible steel, I was able to get a stable, magnet adhering base without any need for a wood base in between. Luckily the Scruby figures are about 1/2 the weight of the S&S. 

So how did they do with the magnetic bases? 

  Now that's a steep slope! and this figure had his original base trimmed last winter.
 Still, I think I'll order some of the extra powerful magnet sheet anyway.

Of course, I hadn't ordered figures for 32 man units. No matter, lots of unpainted figures on hand and I still have to sculpt officers. Still best get selling some more old figures! Now, do I include officers and sergeants in the 16 man wing total or just "go Charge!" standard with 16 other ranks, officer, sergeant and drummer??

Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Apocryphal Well Refought

Last August I replayed Charles Grant's Platea from his book The Ancient Wargame, adjusted to my means. This year I have tackled  something a little smaller, the clash at the Apocryphal Well.  Not having Assyrian and Egyptian armies, or a 7'x9' table, I again adjusted the game to what I do have available.

For those not fortunate enough to be familiar with the book. This is straight, fictional encounter battle between Egyptian and Assyrian advance guards clashing over control of a vital watering hole. (I should really have thrown a brown cloth over my green table to add atmosphere.)

Grant's original map of the game layout.

The role of the Egyptians with their chariot squadron was given to my Royal Persian forces. The Rebel forces therefore, were left playing the Assyrians. The next issue to be dealt with was unit size. Grant's order of battle included units on the order of 30 to 40 man units for infantry and 20 for skirmishers and cavalry deployed on a 63 square foot playing surface. I decided that my 12 man light infantry and cavalry units and 24 man medium infantry would suffice on my 30 sq foot table but reduced the rebel units to 16 since Grant's Assyrian units were smaller than his Egyptian ones.

Next came adjusting the actual units to fit the armies I was using and classifying them under my rules, The Gathering of Hosts. The match wouldn't be perfect, especially since I lack Persian spearmen but I felt that it was close enough. I decided to allow the Persian infantry to keep their bows but ignored the Scythian Nobles bows since the Assyrian cavalry had been fielded without them. For some reason I thought the Assyrian light cavalry was double armed so used the Scythian horse archers, oh well.  I finally settled on the following and laid out the troops according to the map:

Grant's Egyptian Regiments
My Persian Regiments
(commanded by Pharlanes, Satrap of Cappadocia and Royal General)
Ptah:  45 Medium Spearmen
Sardes: 24 Phalanx Infantry
Ra:    43 Medium Spearmen
Immortals: 24 Medium Infantry Archers
Senekht:  43 Medium Spearmen
Ecbatana: 24 Medium Infantry Archers
Kush: 22 Light Archers
Bythnians: 12 Light Archers
Koth: 21 Light Archers
Ethiopeans: 12 Light Archers
Ka: 21 Light Archers
Raffum: 12 Light Archers
Lacish: 18 Light Javelinmen (LMI)
Phrygians: 12 Light Infantry
Royal Chariots: 8 chariots
Royal Chariots: 3 Heavy chariots

Grant's Assyrian Regiments
My Rebel Regiments (commanded by Rosius, The Great Pretender)
Eshnunna:  20 Heavy Cavalry
Rebel Nobles: 12 Elite Medium Cavalry
Zarzi:    20 Light Cavalry
Scyths: 12 Light Horse Archers
Tutub:  26 Heavy Infantry, bow & spear
Saka Veterans: 16 Armoured Infantry Archers
Akalate: 30 Medium Archers
Scyths: 16 Medium Infantry Archers
Hassuna: 31 Medium Archers
Saka: 16 Medium Infantry Archers
Tarbisa: 24 Heavy Infantry spearmen
Greeks: 16 Armoured Phalanx Infantry
Repiquum: 27 Light Javelinmen (LMI)
Armenians: 16 Light Infantry

  The view from behind the Rebel lines as the armies deploy.   
I've been working on the rules, trying to get the right balance of uncertainty and control, eliminating those persistent morale tests, fine tuning troop types etc and so played the game several times without having re-read the account. Once I was happy with the rules, I reset everything again and prepared to follow the battle plans from the book.

For the Persians, this was essentially a straight advance on the well with light troops covering the flanks and the chariots in reserve. The Rebels sent their light cavalry on a flanking maneuver on the right while attacking up the center, using their heavy cavalry initially to soak up arrows while protecting the left.  
The Persians adopt a position on the South Hill.

Things went according to plan at first, apart from the Scythian light cavalry refusing orders for 2 turns in a row,   In the center, the Armenians drove back the Ethiopean archers and then fell back. A prolonged archery duel ensued with the armour on the Saka not quite making up for their lack of numbers.
The battle in the center heats up.

On the Rebel left, the cavalry duly took a pounding from the Raffum archers before being released to drive them off. This they did with no great enthusiasm. In fact honours of the day go to the Raffum archers whose deadly accuracy was backed up by fierce swinging of their sagaris hand axes and by their sprinting, managing to out pace the reluctant cavalry once. Luck can only take you so far though and eventually the cavalry drove them from the table.

Scythian Nobles in the front rank with some fill ins in the rear until I finish refurbishing the full unit.

On the Rebel right, once the Skythians got moving they exchanged fire with the deadly accurate Bythnian archers before sliding around the wood to appear in the Persian rear. This left the right flank of the Greeks open so Rossius ordered the Armenians to shift to cover the gap. These, no doubt exhausted by chasing off a few archers, dragged themselves over, taking good care to avoid any possible contact with the enemy. I suspect there may have been a compact with their Phrygian counter parts since these also refused to advance into the gap, or for that matter to go to the support of the chariots! ( Odd how the same 2 units can keep rolling "1" when they are rolling the same dice as every one else!)
Greeks, The Armenian Regiment and some Saka behind them at the start of the game.

By the book, the light cavalry should have gone for the Bythnian archers but finding themselves actually behind the chariots after these had refused their latest order. It seemed like too good a chance and so I charged them in. Now rather than field the chariots as late Achaemenid scythed chariots, I had opted for the earlier type that may have only existed in Funcken and the Garrison catalog. At least the armoured archers in the chariot crews gave them some form of fighting power even when stationary and hit from the rear. Since the Skythians had already suffered 25% losses from shooting it ended up being 3 dice looking for 3|+ vs 1 die looking for a 4 and yes that meant 2 tied rounds of melee with only 1 hit a piece! Finally after the Scythians finally managed to win a round of melee,  the remaining chariots broke contact and lumbered off (2d6") with the fleet footed light cavalry (3d6") making no real effort to pursue.  The least valuable player award goes to the Scyths.

The chariots begin rallying while the Scythians start worrying about the various Persian light infantry closing in on them.
 So far the battle still hung in the balance. The Rebels had had some successes against the Persian light troops and the Persian infantry had suffered significant casualties but the Rebel center had taken worse than they had given. It was down to clash of 16 armoured Greek hoplites vs 24 Phyrgian spearmen. At first there was a period of pushing and stabbing with no advantage to either side, but eventually numbers told and the Greeks began to waver then turned and fled, bursting through a unit of Saka archers who had unwisely moved to stand partially behind them, As his army started to come apart, Rossius signaled  for a general retreat. He  was going to need more and better troops if his claim to the throne was honoured.

A simple little game but fun. It took me about 2 hours to play through 10 turns and reach a conclusion.  
The last of the 3 battles from the Ancient Wargame is the Battle of the Sambre, Caesar vs the Gauls. I have neither but I think I may be able to turn it into an incident during the retreat of the 10,000 with Xenephon standing in for Caesar. Won't be for a few months at least though. Just about time to break out some muskets.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Ships Ahoy

On Thursday I was over to Ron's for a game. This week a game inspired by, the Battle of San Bernardino Strait, part of the Leyte Gulf fracas. Ron with a squadron of mostly paper (!) escort carriers screened by destroyers had to escape into a line of squalls before I could catch them with a task force of battleships, cruisers and destroyers.

The rules and ships were Axis & Allies, slightly modified. The capital ships are a little big for the 3" hex grid but we coped.  A fun little game. Bloody torpedo bombers. Hates em!


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Rolling Thunder

The chariots roll forward as the Greeks emerge from the river with their ranks in disorder.

On Sunday, bleary eyed from being up early to serve as Gofer to Kathy, the Canine Midwife, (5 girls, 1 boy all healthy thank you, average weight 190 grams, each fits comfy on the palm of 1 hand), I ran through my Halys scenario. It went as expected, a struggle at the river bank with some units being initially repulsed but eventually weight of numbers telling and a crossing being forced. At this point, I evoked the Eclipse and turned my attention to the rules. These had worked OK. In fact, they were pretty much what I had in mind last year when I started writing them but I've done a lot of thinking over that year. In particular I have pondered questions about how to represent "friction", the type, placing and amount of randomness, double jeopardy, and the question of intuitiveness. Without changing the core ideas behind the system I set to work.

Now, before I go farther, let me say that there is nothing really original in these rules, just a lot of borrowing and reusing of old ideas put together to please myself. The core idea is one of a small number of troop types classed for effect by usual tactics rather than weapons and armour though these naturally tend to go together. Originally, I used one of my old standards, an initiative roll with the players taking turns to move and resolve combat, and variable length moves (the previous one  being a card driven system). After playing Charge! recently, I am once again been intrigued by old fashioned  simultaneous moves and combat. Since I don't find this works as well played solo, I compromised and went with Igo/ugo movement but simultaneous shooting and melee. I had strayed again into the land of morale tests to resolve combat and this was the first thing that didn't quite sit right, whatever the underlying theory, at the end of the day, a morale test is basically a die roll that either confirms or contradicts the die rolls made during combat.    

The 2nd issue was that the Generals just did not have enough of a command role in the game. They were good for boosting morale and could urge a slow unit to move faster, but really, an army could function quite well without one thanks.

In the past, I normally used both a command control test and variable length moves. This meant twice the rolling and often a successful command roll could be followed by a pitiful movement roll, essentially negating the first roll.  The command roll was susceptible for modification to reflect the quality of the general and of the troops as well as taking account of the situation, thus while things didn't always work the way the general wanted, he could take steps to increase the chances of success and if doing his job, could see can when he was better off not attempting something unless he was desperate. Despite periodic efforts to allow for more input, the variable movement rolls either remained purely random or became very burdensome to operate, especially if combined with a separate command control roll. I've been using some form of command chart to limit players and introduce friction since the early 1980's while the variable moves only go back to about 1994. To simplify things, I had dropped the command roll for the Gathering but since the degree of randomness was beginning to remind me of Parchesi, I decided to reverse that decision and go back to a command control chart and fixed length moves.

The command control chart was not my old one though. That one had focused on the personality of sub-generals and unit commanders and instead is more akin to that used in Fire& Fury, essentially combining morale, friction and the influence of the General, all in one chart. This nicely dovetailed with removing the post-melee morale test with fixed results. If a unit isn't broken immediately, there is a chance that the initiative rolls and command rolls will alter the situation  before the next round of melee, a defeated unit might rally or might flee prematurely or a shaken pursuer might falter, so its not as predictable as it might sound. As always this led to various collateral changes but at last I had a working draft so I reset the table and played again.

Due to life's little interruptions, the game was played in about 5 short sessions over 2 days, probably 3 hours or so though its hard to tell, especially as there were pauses to fiddle with the rules. I have no idea how many turns I played, some were very fast. My best guess is that the game lasted about 20 turns. Once again things went pretty much as expected but this felt less like a "game" and more like a "wargame". What does that mean? I'm not sure, its an emotional or sub-conscious reaction not an analytic one but one which I should pursue since its not the first time that I have felt it one way or the other.

So, back to the game. It was of course based loosely on Alexander's crossing of the Granicus, greatly scaled down (something on the order of 12 figures representing 2,500 men) and with the armies swapped out.
All cavalry and light troop units were 12  figures strong while massed infantry units were 24 strong. The Lydians fielded a unit of Elite shock cavalry, a 2nd unit of shock cavalry, 2 units of skirmishers, 1 with sling, 1 with bow, 2 units of light infantry and 4 of phalanx infantry (3 of them being armoured).  The General commanded on the right, a sub-general controlled the phalanx and light infantry and another commanded on the cavalry and skirmishers on the left.  The Medes defended the river bank with 3 units of Medium cavalry, 1 with bow and spear, 2 with javelins, a unit of light horse archers and a unit of 3 shock chariots.  The General took charge here. In the rear was a sub-general with 2 units of infantry with bow and spear standing behind a shield barrier and 2 units of skirmishers.

For the Medes to win an all put victory they had to hold the hill and force the invaders back across the river but as long as they held the hill at the end then it would be a minor victory.

The red dots indicate shaken units, the little green dice are hits on units based without singles.

The Lydians struggled with the river crossing, the Mede cavalry holding the river bank on the wings so that the Lydians were disordered by being in the river. Initially, all of the attacks were repulsed but the Medes declined to follow up into the water and eventually the 2nd or 3rd Lydian attacks forced their way onto dry land.

Its hard to shoot a well focused shot when you are running for your life from scythed chariots!

In the center, the Mede chariots had hung back, hoping to be able to strike the Greek mercenaries before these could reform on the river bank. The dice gods favoured them and it worked, the disordered phalanx led by the sub-general broke and scattered or were cut down.

The pursuit across the plain.

As more and more Lydian units climbed out of the river, the Persian commander was faced with a choice to either keep trying to push units back and risk losing the rest of his battered cavalry units or pull back as many as possible to protect the flanks of the infantry. He decided on the latter course, praying to the Great Cat-God  Minnou to cover his retreat.

Minnow appeared suddenly, rolled on the Greek light troops and pushed the chariots slightly closer to their baseline before departing gracefully. 

While the light troops and cavalry bickered on the flanks, the phalanx slowly reformed and rolled forward. (They suffered a string of 1's and 2's and it took all of their General's powers of force and persuasion to get them into order and drag them forward ). As they approached the hill, a storm of arrows "darkened the sky" but the Greeks were well armoured and stormed forward crashing into the shield barrier. This was one of the moments I has been eagerly awaiting, unarmoured Persiand uphill and behind cover vs an armoured phalanx.
C'mon lads, one more push!

Initially, neither side could win an advantage (equal hits) but the Lydian general scored a hit while his Mede sub-general opponent was pulled from his horse and butchered. In dismay the Immortals fell back shaken.  Off to the side, the Mede chariots had crossed over behind the main Mede line and had advanced again, wheeling in towards the Greek flank as the skirmishers held back their counterparts.The battle hung in the balance.

The initative dice rolled out...the Medes grab the initiative. Will the Immortals falter? No they rally! Will the chariots hold back? No,  the chariots slam forward into the flank of the phalanx, already engaged frontally. Moments later the Greeks broke, routed back through the unit beside them and suddenly the whole line collapsed. The Lydian invasion had been repulsed. Just.

This chariot driver has been waiting for 35 years for this moment!
The rules are now available on google docs.

Monday, August 15, 2011

We interrupt this battle report for a... lady with a hawk?

Merten is another German company that produced 40mm/O scale toy soldiers and railroad accessories in the mid-late 20th C. I don't know a lot about the company, as far as I can tell they still exist and still make railroad accessories but not soldiers, or at least stocks still exist. If any one has links about the company or can offer information about them, I would love to know more about them. 

In any case, their soldiers crop up on eBay now and then. Right around my birthday, I came across a listing for a mixed lot of unpainted Merten figures, a fairly rare find since it is normally the painted figures that crop up. This lot included a selection of medieval female figures, an assortment of 15thC longbowmen, 1 Landsknecht and err ummh 3 Centaurs. (and no, we aren't talking SPAT's). Well, I didn't really need the longbowmen but the lady riding sidesaddle with her falcon on her wrist looked like a valuable addition to my cast of Prince Valiant characters and her friends could be useful as well, As for the centaurs, well, you never know what you'll find in the forest. (To be honest, there were 3 identical lots, if the Centaurs had been sold separately, I'd have bought them all! I mean, how often do you see a 40mm plastic centaur?). Well, they arrived today and I am pleased to say that the longbowmen are bigger and sturdier looking than I expected and look close enough to some of the drawings of Henry VIII's archers in France that I will be able to mix them in.  
Sir Gawain and Princess Aleta from Elastolin greet the new ladies to court.

Even having his arm cut off hasn't stopped one of these archers.

Prince Michael and Count Stephen are ambushed by albino Centaurs, BIG albino Centaurs.

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Saturday, August 13, 2011

Alyattes crosses the Halys

Not a lot is known about the battle that ended the five year war between Alyattes, King of Lydia and Cyaxares, King of the Medes, except that it took place that at the Halys River and it ended when there was a solar eclipse which science can date to May 28, 585 BC.  I was looking for a quick game that I could fit in around chores this weekend, looking to test the latest version of Gathering of Hosts and I've been looking to move past last year's interrupted  Mede-Lydian campaign. The battle of the Halys seemed like a good choice. Lacking any real information, I borrowed a situation and the relative strengths and proportions of two armies from some other battle involving a river.........

The Medes are defending the river bank with a unit of chariots, 3 units of medium cavalry and 1 of light cavalry. In the rear is a hill being held by 2 units of medium infantry supported by 2 units of skirmishers.

The Lydians are attacking with a unit of heavy cavalry on the right, led by the General in person, 4 units of heavy infantry in the center supported by 2 units of light infantry and 2 of skirmishers, and finally on the left flank, a unit of medium cavalry,.

If all goes well, I'll get to play through it tomorrow.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Bits and Pieces

A converted kit beside an original pre-painted figure.

Tragard Master asked for more about Preiser/Elastolin kits. I don't actually know alot but here goes. Many among us are familiar with the beautiful painted hard plastic 4cm and 7cm toy soldiers made by Hauser under the brand name of Elastolin. Production of these plastic figures began in 1955 according to all-knowing (sic) Wikipedia. (Production of me also took place in that same year, a coincidence? Really?). Originally the figures were only sold as painted, boxed sets but apparently they were eventually released as unpainted kits as well. Hauser ceased production in 1982. When they declared bankruptcy the next year, the molds were sold to Preiser.  Preiser has continued to sell the 7cm figures as painted figures and as kits and may have periodically released batches of the 4cm figures. For a short while Michigan Toy Soldiers had them listed as did Germania and I foolishly talked myself into believing that they would be available for a few years and kept putting off an order for some of the figures I needed, especially the mounted figures from the Prince Valiant range of which I have none.   AARGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH  I should have known better!  
They do crop up frequently on ebay at prices ranging from ridiculously expensive to ridiculously cheap with most being in the middle.
The kits in front, the finished figures behind them. The one on the left is a damaged original that I touched up, with a spear from some other range, the one on the right is an original with broken axe. I will get around to drilling his hand and replacing it one day. The guy in the middle is one of the kits that followed me home from Historicon.

I have occasionally treated my self to intact, pre-painted figures, but not often. Early on I bought a number of broken pieces since they were all that I could afford but for a while there was a glut of cheap kits, usually in mixed lots, (ie instead of all Romans or all ACW, there would be 1 or 2 from each range)  probably left over stock or from someone's estate.  I also made 1 really useful buy, 100 gold vikings from a dealer in Germany, all the same pose unfortunately. I believe these were sold as novelties but the price worked out to pennies apiece and has provided a useful supply of shields, heads and arms for conversion and repair. They have also been the foundation for my "Pictish" spearmen, all with shaggy bareheads and bare knees.

The kits only go together one way but being hard plastic, the figures cut well with a razor or jeweler's saw, can be shaved or sanded, adhere to epoxy putty and may be glued easily and securely. They also take paint well. The historical accuracy  of the Ancient and Dark Age figures is variable and dated but that on the more modern periods such as the Landsknechts can't be faulted. More than that, the anatomy, animation and attention to detail is amazing.  WHY CAN"T I HAVE MORE!!!!???

One of the golden vikings in front. Needing some mounted "bad guys" (a "Pictish" Noble) to add depth to my Saxon invaders, and having some mounted Roman and Hun kits, I did some simple surgery to get mounted barbarians such as this one. Dismounted Huns are a "maybe" for the future.
The figure at the top of the blog was a kit but received an arm from one of the golden vikings to add variety. 
For those they missed it, here is a battle report of Prince Michael trying to hold a pass against a Picto-Saxon incursion last year.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A White Elephant

Somewhere back around 2003, I bought a Germania Macedonian Elephant kit on Ebay even though I had no intention of ever building Classical Ancient armies in 40mm. Why?  Well, it was pretty and how often do you run in to a 40mm resin elephant? You'll notice that it still hasn't been painted. I thought about allowing my 19thC Indian Rajah to ride it but in truth, even if/when I get to such an army, its a little wild and aggressive for a Rajah's command post. 

Once I started acquiring Prince Valiant figures, I considered ways to integrate it and eventually came up with a scheme for turning it into a Sassinid War Elephant and making up a scenario requiring Val to venture into the East. The idea got no further but is still my best shot at fitting it into my existing collections.

Today I had a further silly but useful thought.Over the last 5 or 6 years, I have been able to collect a handful of Elastolin Turks> There arent't enough for a Rough Wooing army and they are too small and slight of build to fit well with Irregular's output or the Meisterzin figures that make up all of Rob's forces as well as a chunk of my own. I plan on sculpting my own homecast metal Turks but it doesn't make sense to do so in a different size/style than 90% of the Christians that they will be asked to fight. Now Hal Foster's Prince Valiant strips were exciting and inspirational but they were rather free with stereotypes and mixing historical periods. Vikings, Huns, Romans, 12thC knights, Arabs and what not are all jumbled  in together as the suits the story in hand. Sooooooo, somehow, including Turks in turbans to stand in for Saracens, doesn't seem like such an unlikely stretch as it did at first glimmer. I should be able to do one or 2 armoured Persian knights on barded horses using some extra Normans and some Merton horses as a base. The rest of the cavalry can be mercenary Huns. My handful of Turks can then be pressed into service as Turkish infanrty and Howdah crew. I might go as far as to convert some of the unpainted  kits to give them the typical felt bubble hat but since I would prefer to leave the factory painted ones alone, maybe I'll leave the kits be for consistency sake, After all, we're emulating a comic strip here.

The leading scenario option so far would be based on the Ambush Table Top Teaser with a Roman Princess being escorted back to Persia and Prince Michael along with his friend, the princess's betrothed, and their followers preparing to rescue her. The convoy would of course include an elephant amongst the Persian guards. Given my current painting rates, I'd better schedule this one for late next winter but I'll shoot for New Year's Eve and see what happens. Maybe it'll provide an amusing distraction from the confusion of the 19thC for a little while. In any event, I just added some special rules for elephants to my variant of Medieval Mayhem. (For some reason, even those these skirmish rules were written for the 100 Years War, elephants weren't included :-)  ).  

Meanwhile, here is one of the Elastolin kits I picked up last month. He had crept out of the box and onto my painting table, assembled himself while I wasn't paying attention and slipped into the painting queue in between the 25mm Turks and some figures I'm painting on commission. These Elastolin kits are a pleasure to work with and to paint. I find a simple, easy paint job with a bit of a wash satisfies me though I'm sure they would respond well to more precise work, . 

They just don't make kid's toys like this any more.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What's in a hat?

Being all excited on Sunday, I decided to get cracking on a horde of spear chucking native types. My plan was to use the Prince August Skraeling molds that I have. The Natives' plan was to hide. They won.

As compensation I decided to do a peasant soldier in straw hat. Normally, I would (should anyway) research first and sculpt 2nd but where am I going to research a fictional army? I decided to sculpt from the gut and figure it out later.

This is one of my US infantry castings with his hat cut off and replaced by putty, and with his trousers cut a bit shorter and shapeless boots touched up a bit with toes added to suggest sandels. So far, so good. But something looked right but not quite right. I spent sometime researching strawhats around the world. Even plugged in the old John Wayne Alamo to look at the scenes of sombrero wearing Mexicans.

Here is one of the big traps of fictional armies for me, finding the balance between authenticity and originality. If I gave him a typical Mexican sombrero, he would just look Mexican and various pre-conceived notions would start filling my head and I would start worrying about inaccuracies. But if I invent something, does it look and feel right?  Well, I did find some pictures of sraw hats that could bend that way though most, not all,  seem to have fairly rigid shapes, I also found some felt hats that had brims like that but usually not quite so tall crowned. But felt, hmm I wasn't picturing felt, I wonder what the use of felt would imply? My first thought was colder weather but both Boers and Apaches can be seen in felt hats. I decided I need to think about who these people are.

Then I remembered, at a very inconvenient time, that if/when Mike at Historifigs releases  the Scruby 40mm "Arabs" I am committed to buying as many as I can afford. Which isn't many but a hundred or so anyway. But how are they going to fit in? hmmm They are wearing a low Sudan style turban,  could almost be a sweat band style turban with no top. Hmmm  or maybe I need to look closer at an idea from a  few years back about   Arab slaver involvement below the mountains.

By this time, of course, my mind has wandered back to some other figures I've been meaning to do for a while, some shaggy, bearded frontiersmen in wide brimmed hats, or Metis. hmmmmmmm If only those PA wild west types weren't 2 sizes bigger then the Scrubies...... or maybe some Boer types, very similar. I mean, I need to sand down the front of the hat a bit more anyway......

So......... I now have another unit of twelve 25mm Turkish infantry painted up for my portable 18thC Army. Well, they were already cast, weren't hiding and knew who they wanted to be.