Saturday, 21 November 2020

Getting into Black Powder and Napoleonics cheaply

If you are interested in Black Powder, but daunted by the prospect of painting lots of large models, the following may be of interest. I'll go through the background, the painting, basing and gaming, then touch on future plans.
 
  • Background: 1/72 plastics
  • Painting: An easy formula for general use and a specific recipe for Austrians
  • Basing: A scheme adapted from Shako that works for Black Powder
  • Gaming: Some general notes on playing with smaller figures.
  • Postscript: Future plans.

Background:
Back in my uni days I played Shako, providing both sides in 1/72 plastics. For a long time I after I had no games, miniatures languishing in boxes, others unpainted. About a year ago I invited some friends to visit during the summer of 2020, and at the same time my club had started getting into Black Powder. I had signed up to produce a French force for this, but I didn't fancy producing vast numbers at the time - and tried to keep myself on a short rein. I thought back to my old Shako forces, and fancied I could use them as a springboard.

My friends honeymooned in Vienna, so they were quite interested in leading some Austrians to glory against the French. Games Workshop's Contrast paints were out just then, and I realised I could produce some tolerable Austrians for a minimum of effort. I bought two packs of infantry, a pack of artillery, one pack of heavy cavalry and another of light, and brought them to a tolerable standard within a few months.


Painting:
  1. Wash your miniatures with lukewarm water and washing-up liquid and let them dry.
  2. Glue them to a tongue depressor or lolly stick for painting.
  3. Apply a coat of PVA glue and leave to dry.
  4. Prime them in the colour of your choice.
  5. Paint with a few simple bold colours. Don't get too hung up on detailing.
  6. Apply a suitable wash or a contrast paint.
  7. Glue them to bases.
  8. Varnish prior to applying static grass, if you're using it.
 
Example painting with the Austrian foot:
  1. Primed white as this was the main uniform colour.
  2. Applied GW's Contrast Apothecary White all over the models and let it dry.
  3. Drybrushed white.
  4. Flesh: a flesh colour.
  5. Facings: an appropriate colour.
  6. Musket: dark brown for wood, silver for metal.
  7. Backpacks and rolls: brown for the packs and an apt colour for the rolls.
  8. Black bits (Shako, boots): Contrast Black
  9. Apply washes to flesh and anywhere you'd like to accentuate detail.

Basing:
 
The basing scheme I followed for Shako was 6 horse for a cavalry regiment (Two bases: 3 horse on a 2"/50mm deep by 3"/75mm wide base) and 9 men for a foot battalion (Three bases: 3 men on a 1"/25mm deep by 2"/50mm wide base). I used 1/72 plastics, which you can still buy for about a tenner a box. One box generates 2-3 regiments of cavalry and 3-5 battalions of foot at my scale, i.e. about a brigade in a box.

For the Austrians, who field larger units of foot than other nations, Shako suggested adding a fourth base to an infantry battalion. Black Powder's recommendation to have a Large unit be about a third larger than a normal-sized one. Therefore, my existing units of French were 9 men to a battalion, while the new Austrians were 12.

Gaming:
Ranges, movement and base sizes:
A benefit to using smaller sculpts is that you can fit in a game on a lesser space. I'm lucky enough to have repurposed a table tennis table, which can fit a 4'/1.2m by 8'/2.4m setup quite easily. I shrank all the distances in the Black Powder rulebook to 75% of their originals, e.g. cavalry move 13.5"/34.3cm per bound, not 18"/45.7cm. A lucky command roll for cavalry on turn 1 of a Black Powder game at normal distances can see them move 4.5 feet/1.37m, which is deeper than my table space allows. Using reduced distances just for 28mm models is suggested in the Peninsular War supplement that Warlord have produced, so I know I'm not alone in this! A normal foot battalion in line Black Powder's recommended scale for 28mm is c. 24cm/9.4" across and 40mm deep, whereas one of mine is c. 15cm/6" across, or roughly 2/3 as broad. Therefore, you can either fit more men onto the table or, if you have a big table, leave room for flanking manoeuvres.

Playing the game:
I mentioned above that I painted these Austrians up for some friends I invited to visit in the summer of 2020. This being the Year of the Plague, they weren't able to visit, of course. However, that hasn't stopped us gaming. We've been using video calls via Messenger on Facebook. I know many others have been using Zoom for this sort of thing, too. With a camera in your mobile, you can happily get both distant and zoomed-in views of the action. I find it helpful to offer my own thoughts, especially when introducing people to the game, "You could move that battalion there, but note my cavalry brigade is just here," swivel the camera to highlight an area they've missed, "and you'll be exposing your flank". You'll find that the more you play, the less you need to do this, but it's more enjoyable for your opponent if they aren't making the sorts of mistakes they wouldn't make in person.

We've been having a battle of a Saturday afternoon for several months now, and it's a lot of fun!
 
Postscript:
My friends and I have rebooked our in-person game for next summer, when we'll be playing in the garden. Given this year's restrictions, and the government's inconsistency in addressing them, I have in mind a three-month window (June through August), and we'll narrow things down closer to the time.
 
They've been bitten by the Napoleonic bug, and have picked up the Black Powder rulebook and some of the Victrix Napoleonic Austrians in 28mm. I did say earlier that I had wanted to avoid producing two armies, but "the best laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley", and I've found myself helping a friend paint up his 28mm Waterloo starter set from Warlord in addition to my own 28mm French. Consequently, we should have a few brigades on either side on a nice big battlefield: 12'/3.6m by 6'/1.8m is my plan for the garden!

This doesn't mean I'll abandon my old 1/72 troops. I dug out three regiments of French cavalry last night - chasseurs a cheval, hussars and line lancers - with a view to painting them up. I'm sure I have divisions' worth of infantry in the house: British, Prussian and French. After years in silence, they are seeing the table again!

No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...