Friday, 24 December 2010
The Mystery of the Fourth Wargamer: or The Devil Throws the Dice
let me invite you to close the curtains on the snow swirling outside. Draw closer to the fire and settle back with a glass of something to fortify the nerves.
I was chatting the other day to my old chum Harry Pearson, you remember he did a lot of research on the origins of Wargaming when he was writing up his Magnum Opus 'Achtung Schweinhund'. One of the fascinating aspects was the close association that developed back between the wars between wargaming and the study of the occult. Harry records how the great beast master Alistair Crowley and Dennis Wheatley, author of the Devil Rides Out were both keen wargamers.
However Harry is a little vague on what role, if any, the wargame played in Black Magic Rituals. Was a unit's reaction, for example, decided by counting factors or reading the entrails of a Black Cock . I decided an outright question was the best approach but all Harry did was turn pale and mutter something about not meddling in affairs best left alone before hastily leaving.
However I could not just leave it and I believe I have discovered evidence that the wargame may have had a more central and sinister place in the occult practices.
Look at the picture above. Published in John Garratts Model Soldiers 1959 it purports to show a wargame in progress. But does it ? Look at the central figure chanting from a book, the two identically posed acolytes surely those grins denote a state of drugged frenzy. And what do you make of the background? Why are they playing in front of a giant and rather ragged paper screen? What horrors do they wish to conceal.
"Oh enough," you scoff, "This is merely fanciful stuff".
So be it, but, look again gentle reader and tell me who is casting the fourth shadow?
Consider, the light is falling from the left and casting a shadow to the right of the figures. Three shadows are clear but who does the central one belong to? He cannot be out of picture since the shadow of the left hand gamer (or should I say worshipper) falls OVER his shadow. He could be behind the paper but look at the top of the wall no gap is apparent and if a door was behind we would see the outline of that as well.
No only one answer fits the facts a fourth gamer is about to materialise in the middle of the group. I would go as far as to be certain that the Prince of Darkness is about to appear to his followers.
In fact,.. Just a moment I can hear a scratching at the window, I must go and make it secure, I will be right back...................
Wednesday, 22 December 2010
In Wedge we Serve
Regular readers will be aware that at this contemplative time of year it is my wont to reflect back to an earlier and possibly more agreeable age. Above we see the typical wargamer of the post war years relaxing at his painting table. The gentleman in question is an American and seems to have stepped straight from the pages of a Nero Wolfe mystery. You will no doubt notice the rather natty summer weight double breasted suit, such informal attire for gaming became acceptable much earlier in the States than in stuffy England. I believe his 'fraternity ring' marks him as a Harvard or Yale man as indeed most model soldier collectors were back then. Yet there is a danger in deducing too much from these faded photographs. Wargaming is dreadfully lacking in written evidence for these early years and much like the Archaeologist we find ourselves forming complete systems of gaming from a tiny shard of dice or a crumpled piece of cardboard building. This is at best problematic so often the safest answer is simply to admit that we know very little of how these early gamers actually carried out their wargames.
Take the example above. One of the best known of early images of gaming taken from the great work Charge.
And detailing the battle of Sittangbad, yet look closer. What is that item in the top left corner? Yes the one running alongside the river with a Light Infantryman standing on it. I have tried telling myself variously that it is an improvised breastwork or a wharf of some kind.
But Please lets be honest, it is a Wedge. Pure and simple a Wedge in the middle of the battlefield. Why? I have no idea. Oh well just an isolated anomaly you say, but wait look at this picture of a group of US gamers taken some time in the fifties. Quite a lot to comment on in this picture I think you will agree and will return to it * but just for now concentrate on the far right of the table.
Thursday, 9 December 2010
Good Enough? What does that mean to you?
No shortage of inspirational and thought provoking material, but the last week I have been mainly pondering on:
"It will be most unusual for wargamers to collect and paint armies of a particular period without an interest in the history and an understanding of the tactics of the troops and their uniforms."
For myself that is something of an understatement, all too often raising a new wargames army had been akin to taking a tiger by the tail - impossible to let go. Casually picking up a few 20mm figures for the Spanish Civil War because the Civil Guard hats were funny, resulted in a fifteen year study of the war (so far) and a couple of thousand painted figures, vehicles and buildings.
Perhaps that is the reason why I could never really come to grips with the 18C imaginations. I liked the idea well enough but frankly so much of it seemed to lack any substance or, to be honest, relevance to anyone apart from the author. I found myself very much more attracted by Peter Young's distinction between Imaginary armies and Fictional ones. Fictional characters and armies operate within the framework of a real world but one that is slightly skewed. Of course to do this it is necessary to actually know something of the world in which they are set, and I know absolutely nothing about the functioning of the Reichskrieg.
As a result I have spent much of the last month trying to come to terms with the Holy Roman Empire in general and the 18C Reichsarmee in particular. I now know how many Electoral Circles there were and which were ecclesiastic or secular. I can tell you the difference between a Landgraf and a Margraf though my spelling of either is pretty dodgy. I can list the rivals to Prussia as dominant states in the Empire at the end of the 17C. (Bavaria, Saxony, Hanover and Munster, since you ask. ... Munster????).
And how exactly does all of that enhance my wargaming? I don't know to be honest but the truth is that it does. I am looking forward to finally getting to terms with the period as next years big project. I have sorted out the figures that I wish to use and planned a painting style that will be quick and simple. I shall try to raise four small armies for the States of Hanover, Bavaria, The Ecclesiastical Circle of Munster, and Bohemia.Above can be seen the first rough drafts for Bavaria, Hanover and Bohemia. (spot the fictional one) And below the first finished recruits for the Bohemian Wenceslas Regt of foot. You may notice that one figure is black lined and one is not. I think that I shall not bother black lining this army, to my mind the difference is not worth the time required and when the figures are glossed to a degree that a Guards RSM could see his face in them then it will not be that visible.
Tuesday, 23 November 2010
Whatever happened ...to that Flanderkin bloke?
Most of the painting has been done for display models for SSM, though I have managed to put in a few for myself. So I can hardly claim to be a disinterested party, nevertheless I think these are a great range and it is
div> I have also enjoyed painting the 25mm Stadden range of Crimean figures. When you think that these were designed over 50 years ago they are amazing. Above a Guards officer stands next to a Foundry figure.
Whatever happened to.....
Sunday, 18 July 2010
A Bad, Bad, Man.
But first let us start off by returning to the roots of this blog, Flanders and Corporal John. From time to time I have put up notes on various books to do with the War of the Spanish Succession. Last week I was lucky enough to track down two fairly rare memoirs by unabashed rogues. The first one by Peter Drake, I found a relatively cheap copy in California (£12, even after adding postage a once in a lifetime bargain) Inspired by this I started looking for a book often referred to but rarely seen.
He sees service at Killicrankie and most of the battles and sieges of the Nine years War and the Wars of the Spanish Succession. His book provides excellent and direct accounts of his experiences in these actions. But although the various Highlanders, French and Bavarians do him great harm it is as nothing compared with the beatings, stabbings and shootings he sustains in fierce turf wars for the control of the army's travelling brothels.
Thursday, 13 May 2010
Tuesday, 11 May 2010
feedback and update
First off a quick look at the originals in the Crimea. I think you would be hard pressed to see what colour the turban is from this very early photograph. However I think it is fair to say that it does not stand out from the fez in a particularly striking way.
Thursday, 6 May 2010
What would you do?
It is quite amazing the way that effectively it creates a kind of camouflage effect. But worse than that figures which were obviously zouaves are now pretty indistinct.
Here then, is vital question. Is historical accuracy the overriding factor? The turbans were definitely green. But they look better in white. Not just more attractive but they convey the style of the figure much better.
I know most of you being civilised and worldly wise will say, "My dear chap,they are your figures do them as you wish." Quite so, but what would you do if they were yours. I am genuinely interested in what is a fairly fundamental question but one which is taken for granted and seldom discussed. I have placed a poll on the left column where I should be obliged if you voted, but please feel free to add additional detail in the comments.
Friday, 16 April 2010
A trial game
Here at Ciudad del Juguete two companies of Civil Guard and a handful of the local agricultural labourers are prepared to defend the town anticipating that relief will be arriving from the regional capital.
Monday, 12 April 2010
A sleepy day in Ciudad del Juguete
Wednesday, 7 April 2010
Gallic - c'est tout
So, conclusions on what I have done so far?
I think it is unarguably true that if you get far enough away from the figures then the simple one looks better than the detailed and shaded style. It follows that there is no such thing as best painting only that that you prefer. That choice may be based on factors such as skill, enjoyment, cost, available time or even whether you prefer to be in the same room as your figures when playing.
For myself I think I am still compromising too much with these figures. On the next regt. that I paint I shall only paint the bayonets in silver. The muskets do not stand out at a distance and can be left unpainted in black. The logic of this style seems to be leading to a basically unpainted figure with a few splashes of flat bright colour, whether I could ever be happy with that I remain unsure.
Ultimately the only worthwhile test will be when I use these figures in a game.
Friday, 2 April 2010
Jim makes the excellent suggestion that one can get an idea of the effect by standing well away from the screen. I have experimented and this does work although I found I needed to be about 15 feet away in the next room. In order to prevent you having to stand at the bottom of the garden I have posted a smaller image of the figures. This seems to work from about 6-8 feet away.
I should emphasise that this is an experiment I do not envisage using it on my collection of 30m Willie and Stadden figures. However I am optimistic that it might help me put two plastic 20mm nomad horse armies on the table instead of having them on their original sprues for the next 20 years. I am enjoying doing it and I am learning something though I am not sure what yet.
Charles, vin rouge nights are all to few at present so any excuse is welcome. I suppose that afternoons spent lounging in a crowded bar eating rillettes and crusty bread with red wine that could strip chrome are a thing of the past. Where could you get enough cigarette smoke from these days? Failing the authentic ingredients a couple of slices of mothers pride and a bag of hot pork scratchings should give that proper Tabac feel. But where does one get a simple vin de table these days? Everyone has upgraded so much that the old fashioned red plonk is virtually unobtainable, if anyone has any good ideas I would love to know.
Ross makes the point that there is no standard distance to view a figure from. I suppose if one was painting two armies the one likely to be on the far side of the table is not worth investing so much time in. You will note that I am trying these ideas out on the cheapest figures that I can find and on an army I want quickly. My initial thoughts are that it will work best on a simpler uniform late 19c or Marlburian I am unconvinced on how much could be left off say Napoleonics. However it does raise the prospect of having armies that one might not otherwise get round to. Two hat plastic armies might be affordable in every sense of the word.
I will not bore everyone by going into great detail over the painting on black, I am making the same discoveries that everyone else did years ago. I used black because I wanted to base the figures first and I reasoned if I could not reach all the figure with paint it would not matter with black undercoat. I found difficulty in seeing the detail on the figure and judging where the brush point was. I also had trouble covering black with red and needed three coats. I now understand why Games workshop paints are so popular. Mr Asquith suggested dry brushing with white before starting painting and I am trying this on the next lot. I fear that I may have been a bit more heavy handed than he advised, ah well.
And finally, DC. I am completely in awe of your painting style. It is absolute perfection I should be distraught if I influenced you to change a brush stroke. I rank your work alongside Giles Allison, John Ray and Phil Olley as the very highest standard of figure painting.
Thursday, 1 April 2010
A bit Gallic part 2 (pure and applied)
About seven years ago I hosted a large Napoleonic game at my house. Of the 3-4,000 figures in use I painted all but a handful myself. All of my figures were carefully shaded, dry brushed and washed in ink and pretty well what I would regard as the best I could do. But I was short of Russians and I dipped into an army I had acquired twenty years or so ago. All were Hinchliffe figures, many of them early period castings and all were competently painted in Humbrol straight from the pot without shading, lining or any other fancy frills.
To my surprise and dismay when the game was underway it was agreed that the antique Hinchliffe figures were the best looking on the table.
I have reflected on this ever since and the conclusion is inescapable figures that look superb from 18" away do not keep the magic once on the table. Certainly if you are the one that has painted them then memory will supply the missing details to the eye and you will see the subtle beauty, but sadly to others they will be appearing dark and lifeless. Why this is I do not know but I suspect it has something to do with the eye being unable to register the colours and blurring them into a darker whole. I notice at shows that some people attempt to get over this by painting their armies in increasingly bright colours. And good luck to them, it certainly gives some eye catching results. But it never seemed to me to be a complete solution and so I pondered quietly on.
I began to make a little more sense of it when I read an article on the Japanese tradition that by eliminating unnecessary things, more necessary things come to the foreground.
Which brings us neatly to our last post on French artists. You will remember that the things which stood out to the critics of the impressionist movement were that the colours were flat blocks of unshaded colour and that the figures seemed to be unfinished by the standards of the time. However by eliminating all unnecessary detail and shading of colours and conveying only that information that the eye could take in as an impression they were able to create paintings full of light, life and energy.
So what would that look like as a wargames unit? I am not sure but I have had a first stab at applying the principles. Now here we hit the first snag, I cannot show you what the figures look like from five foot away in a good light. I can only show you a scan of them close up. I will try some photos under sunlight if we ever have some but in the meantime..
The figure on the left has what I would regard as the absolute minimum detail to convey the 'feeling' of the uniform. However when put on a table four feet away the red on the jacket has long disappeared and the face is distorted by the presence of a beard. The belt across the sash disappears but has the effect of making the sash itself look darker and duller. The figure on the right conveys just as much 'zoooviness' and looks much more vibrant and distinguishable. And yes the figure on the right does look unfinished to me too. I really want to at least put a beard on but I keep reminding myself its supposed to look like its not finished.
I tried to use a bright palette of colours: Maganese blue Coat, Cadium red trousers, GW vomit brown flesh.
I used yellow ochre for the pack and two shades of sky blue for sash and fez tassel. I wonder whether the figure would be cleaner if I kept to only one shade for both areas. The base is a home mixed green of Chrome oxide (Goblin Green) and flesh to give a neutral background.
Monday, 29 March 2010
Coming over a bit Gallic
Well I cannot imagine that I was the only one to be spending time reflecting on how the French art establishment had become so stuffy and hide bound that it refused to exhibit the new paintings of Manet and as a result an 'alternative' exhibition created the seeds for Impressionism. Though it is possible that I am the only one thinking of it in terms of wargames figures. A typical Acadamie work. Not the best reproduction I am afraid, but if you look at the gladiators chest you can see the flesh shadowed in a way that might have used the foundry three colour flesh system.
The establishment painters valued by the Académie used carefully blended layers of paint in sombre colours to achieve realistic and natural effects. brushstrokes were blended away and transparent glazes were used over the paint. The Acadamie was actively hostile to other styles of painting.
Manet began to develop a freer manner, creating form not through a gradual blending of tones, but with discrete areas of color side by side.Viewers were not used to flat space and shallow volumes in painting. To many, Manet's "color patches" appeared unfinished. The impressionists took further the laying side by side of
blocks of bright colour to convey light and movement. Impressionist art is a style in which the artist captures the image of an object as someone would see it if they just caught a glimpse of it.
This picture by Manet was painted in 1866 and was refused by the Paris Salon. It only hints at the palette and techniques which the impressionists would develop but already the flatness of the jacket is a world away from shading and highlighting.
Saturday, 27 March 2010
Work in progress
Look at these Stadden 25mm Guardsmen, what could be easier just paint them how we used to 40 years ago.Simple block colours in toy soldier style, gloss varnish, lovely job!
And yet, I am wondering, those epaulets; do they really stand out enough or are they just a white blob? I could just run a black line around them to bring them to life. Of course if I do that then I really should black line the cross belts, and suddenly the toy soldier look is starting to disappear. The danger is that 'improvements will make the figures just like all the others that I own.
I have been planning a third Army to go with the British and Russians. French is the obvious choice and I have had the pleasure of reacquainting myself with an old friend:
The very first uniform book I ever bought. This is not my original copy, I sold that many years ago but this new copy has brought the memories flooding back. It is hard to use by the standards of to days books and lacks much detail but it still gives a broad sweep of a fantastic and colourful army.
I have planned to have French and British Armies which will be suitable for re fighting the invasion scares of 1846 and 48. The British are relatively easy as the Crimean army fits the bill perfectly. The French are a little more problematic and I have decided that the best compromise is to use the Strelets Light Infantry box, for line and light troops in the 1845 uniform.
Strelets are unfairly neglected, the plastic people don't like them because they look like like metal castings. The metal fans won't touch them because they are plastic. In fact I quite like them though they are even more infuriating than most plastic manufacturers. Each packet has one or two outstanding poses, real must have stuff such as the vignette below from the ACW commanders set. Then you have a whole bunch of bizarre stuff...
Zouaves playing football and teeing off at golf.
The aim is to knock out an army quickly and cheaply. you will notice that I have put the figures on to their bases before painting them and then sprayed the whole thing with black undercoat! Never let it be said that am unreceptive to new fangled ideas and fashions. Some people speak very highly of this style of painting so I shall give it a go and keep you informed of the results.
And finally.......... ON THIS DAY.....
175 years ago, Professeur Tournesol the noted Belgian inventor approached the British Admiralty with his idea for a self propelled barge. By using a cast sectional iron hull and abandoning paddle wheels for the top secret 'Tournesol propulsion system' he insisted it was possible to build a flat bottomed barge capable of carrying up to 300 men and supplies, that was capable of withstanding the rigour of the open seas and independent of wind power.