Tuesday 25 March 2008

A Wargaming Weekend

My old wargames opponent, James Shepherd made a trip to the depths of North Wales for Easter Weekend.
We had planned to spend the time getting to grips once again with WRG 4th edition ancients. We had very fond memories of games long gone in which Greeks and Persians slugged it out through many a Wednesday night at the club. Why not use them again, or would we find that we no longer were charmed by the degree of mental arithmetic required?

In any event we were foiled by my having forgotten that I had banished to the loft all the figures required on the grounds that I would no longer require them!

So ignoring sub arctic temperatures we went out to the garage/wargames room and looked for an alternative. It was too cold to contemplate a full game but we pulled out a copy of Contemptible Little Armies Rules, some Spanish Civil War figures and a bottle of Famous Grouse. Suitably equipped we ran through a series of small scenarios, starting with a straight forward assault on a fortified trench line, then introducing machine guns, motor transport and artillery. We enjoyed the straight forward way the rules played and despite a certain amount of cross referencing were able to work out things as we needed them.

Next day we organised an assault by a Nationalist flying column on a republican held village. Three companies of cavalry, together with a support company and an armoured car attacked a position held by two companies of Assault Guard with a machine gun company and a 75mm field gun.

The cavalry was caught by a machine gun which threw a devastating four sixes and two fives from six dice in one move.

The republican artillery was rubbish, far more casualties were caused by two assault guards with rifles who held out under the bridge.

Finally the armoured car advanced alone and, despite the suicidal bravery of a group of Dynamiteros hidden inside a building, cleared the village single handed.
The commissar fled on the back of a motor cycle just in time for us to return to the dining room and enjoy a pre dinner drink.

Of course we had not been able to leave the rules alone and soon jettisoned the artillery rules replacing them with Charles Grants' burst circles. Overall though we were pleased and may return to the period with them again. Though next time we hope to avoid the freezing winter hills above Madrid and maybe do something in the baking plains of Andalucia.

The figures are20mm metal from Bandera, Warrior and Irregular the armoured car is Ravensthorpe.

The scenery is very basic and just thrown together, the figures were more or less as they came from the box. Yet an ability to improvise and a hefty dose of imagination provided a game in which the suffering of the militia in their frozen trenches and the armoured car skidding along icy cobbles were every bit as vivid as if the game had featured the very best detailed terrain. Still that may simply be the onset of old age, the next logical step is not to play at all but sit in a warm armchair and just imagine it all!

A mortar carrier!!

Thursday 20 March 2008

Happy Birthday Donald F Featherstone.

The Great Old Man of British Wargaming is Ninety years old.

There are many people who know Mr Featherstone far more personally than I do, but there are also a few to whom he is a shadowy figure, for them I pen a few of my views of his great contribution to wargaming.

Mr Featherstone recounts that his father was absent for much of his childhood, however he compensated for this by sending spectacular presents of toy soldiers and castles at Christmas time. The seed was planted, but life intervened for a number of years firstly a spell in the services took up a good chunk of his twenties. He served in the tank corps becoming a sergeant eventually and seeing action in North Africa and Italy. Although he saw his share of events that nowadays would be trauma inducing he remains unabashed in his huge enjoyment of his time in the army.

After the war he became a physiotherapist and achieved notable success in his profession. Author of six or so books with titles like ; Be fit at forty, and Back injuries for Firemen and of course Ballet Injuries, he also was physio for Southampton Football Club and Hampshire Cricket team, both first class English sporting sides.

In addition to being ninety Don is in his 53rd year of continuous wargaming, he entered the hobby in 1955. He was by no means the first wargamer in the UK but his fair for publicity and his attractive writing style made his book Wargame 1962 a runaway best seller. Well alright not quite that but it remained in print for years and sold many thousands of copies. Several further books followed and then in the early seventies an avalanche of his titles made their appearance on library shelves throughout the UK.

His greatest contribution, though was as editor of the famous Wargamers Newsletter which ran monthly from the mid sixties until 1983(?). This enabled the spread of ideas and reports from even the most isolated of gamers. Never one to shrink an argument Don's editorials were a highlight of each magazine as the Labour government, pacifists, the WRG and especially John Tunstill and the London Wargames Group came in for castigation.

Inevitably as clubs prospered and rules and magazines became more commercial, the Newsletter faded. Don moved to his first love of military history and penned many more books and articles. He remained a keen wargamer meeting with a tiny group of friends at his home in Southampton every week, but increasingly isolated from the British scene.

However our friend in the US came up trumps spectacularly where his own country treated him so shabbily. He became a guest of honour at several US conventions and derived great pleasure from the way he was feted over there. Eventually the pendulum swung and with increasing maturity the British gamers realised the debt they owed to him. He was guest of honour at Salute last year, a welcome though overdue plaudit.

He has suffered losses in his private life recently but I believe remains in good health and still (I hope) is still gaming at 90 and still providing us with an example to try and emulate.

A very Happy Birthday to Mr Featherstone, I shall raise a glass of the good malt tonight in his honour.

Thanks to Patrick of OSW for the prompt.

Thursday 13 March 2008

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

I shall resist the temptation to any false modesty or coyness. I have been a bit busy the last few days because I had Stuart Asquith as a house guest.

The presence of his charming wife (wargames wives are always referred to as charming but his genuinely is) restricted the talk of toys and manufacturers and wargamers to no more than 12 or 15 hours a day, nevertheless we covered quite a bit of ground in that time.

Obviously on such visits quite a bit of time is spent in the garage or loft rooting around through long forgotten boxes as well as showing off treasured units. Among the modern ranges that looked especially nice were the Front Rank Spanish Napoleonic, but inevitably we concentrated on those figures from long ago that have retained their charm.

The Omdurman range from Barry Minot was only available for four or five years but together with his Zulu war ranges they were an unusually comprehensive selection for those days. They never included cavalry, I suspect that he may have been less confident with equine anatomy, especially since his charging camels were some of the strangest beasts one could ever wish to see. I had many in my youth but sold them years ago, but recently through the good offices of a friend I was able to buy back the British Infantry. The sit alone at present without any foe to trouble their slumbers.

My small collection of Holger Eriksson 30mm figures also provoked interest and we soon had them on the dining room table refighting Blasthoff Heath once more with the help of two batteries of Napoleonic Spanish and Austrian artillery. (I lost of course).

Now I sit alone in tranquility ready to get on with my Marlburians, but my resolve is weakened by all the alternatives presented during the weekend. I could easily just go and get that regt of Holger Eriksson Dragoons that only need black lining in order to be finished. Or maybe paint up a few Afghans for my British to skirmish with.

I think I can resist that, but worst of all somehow I have acquired a few reinforcements for my English Civil war armies. Perhaps the best thing would be to simply sit down and paint some for a couple of days and get it out of my system before returning to the Les Higgins refreshed. This is the trouble with combining a hobby of limitless fascination with the concentration span of a chicken.

Wednesday 5 March 2008

Chronicles of an Old Campaigner

Now heres a boring picture, I can't believe that Partizan press couldn't find something a bit more lively for their Jacket illustration. But as they say don't judge a book by its cover.

I bought this for my birthday and I was absorbed within the first few pages. Duels, escaping debtors, beautiful strangers, its straight from the pages of Alexander Dumas. Indeed I did wonder whether I was reading a work of fiction, it read so interestingly. However when the narrative moves on to sieges and battles I found the description to be authentic enough to persuade me the author had been present.

The original was published 1737 and the translation by Colonel Horsley was published in 1904. It would be nice to have an up to date introduction included in modern reprints but realistically I would rather have a lot of cheap books and have to do do my own checking than settle for a few very expensive volumes with academic footnotes.

M. de la Colonie covers his serice from cadet to colonel between 1692 and 1717. He served as an engineer as a dragoon and then in the Bavarian service as an officer of Grenadiers. The wars of Louis XIV are covered and a final chapter recounts his service with Prince Eugene against the Turks.

I read this cover to cover in three days and enjoyed it enormously. It is a paperback at 478pp and available from Partizan for £25.

Sunday 2 March 2008

Its a flat world after all

Time to move on from painting, I think, before some of my gentle readers do themselves a mischief. But before I do I would like to round up a few of the ideas that have presented over the last week.

First off if anyone thinks the purpose of these posts has been to tell people how they should be doing it, I have missed the mark. I am telling you how I do it, I am quite prepared to believe that you can do it better. All that I really would like to see is a broadening of the discussion, so that the average painter no longer has to feel it necessary to apologise for what they produce. In which spirit thanks to Glynis and Gary who say that are using Red Oxide undercoat from the garage to provide a surface that gives depth and lustre to acrylics. I have a tin somewhere and will definitely try this as an undercoat for horses.

As you can see from the pictures I put up in my last post the effects gained from the different paint and ink finishes varies, some good some, some not so. However what is becoming clear is that there a real variance between what works on the table and what works in a photograph. Murdock gives a good illustration of the way inks can glow in a photo:


I found that the Austrians finished in white undercoat and ink wash look very odd on the post but fine in real life, while the rather scruffy Old Glory Prussian looks far better than he does on the table. Black undercoating really is essential for a figure that is to be photographed under bright light.

This got me thinking, the three shade system has been around for many years, it is virtually identical to the way the old masters of the 30mm flat used to paint their figures. Because they were two dimensional all the folds and shadows had to be painted in, and a palette of saturated colour gave life to the little slips of metal. Of course all this ended when the round figure came in, when you handed it around or looked at it on the table you could see the way the light made shadows and highlights, subtle effects and colours could be appreciated by the eye.

But a photo is a flat image, it is dead and cannot show the way light reflects and moves. Is this the driving force that has changed painting styles and altered figure design? Simply the wish to make the figure look good on the printed page. Why not, how many of us see these pieces in the flesh? The image is everything whether advertising a new range of figures or simply making an eye catching illustration.

Has the hobby moved so much that image is more important than the reality of a game in ones back room or the local club?

Sorry about the quality of the illustrations, can you believe I simply couldn't find a really good shot of a single flat?

And now enough of painting, back to Flanders.