Sunday, 19 December 2021

This Blog Aten't Dead

 What can I say about the past few years that has not been said? I shall confine myself to the ever-pertinent monosyllable, "Oof".

Much to my surprise and resistance, I have become embroiled in a madcap scheme to collect 28mm Napoleonics. For decades I have been adamant that this is quite the wrong scale. It takes forever to get everything you want done. I can't say I've changed my perspective, but I admit the formations do look appealing when they're done. Moreover, it's a scale other folks are happy to game at, even though the painting takes a while, no matter how many corners I cut!

Over the course of the pandemic, consequently, I have painted for Black Powder two (24-man) battalions of Hanoverians, three of British foot, 17 Riflemen, a pair of French 12-lb guns (to represent a single battery), a single Royal Artillery gun and crew, at least thirteen French battalions (including Swiss, Irish and Italian units to spice things up), five Prussian battalions and a dozen Jaegers, three (12-man) regiments of Chasseurs à Cheval, two Prussian cavalry regiments, half a dozen brigadiers, two dozen casualty markers to hold dice, and movement trays for all the above. I've also completed a huge hill with a footprint of nine sheets of A3 paper.

I've even - gaps between lockdowns permitting - managed to fit in a few in-person games of Black Powder. Remarkable. Fingers crossed, next year we'll be playing a campaign. :)

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.

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.

  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.

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.

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!
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!

Sunday, 24 March 2019

Bolt Action: Winter Wehrmacht and 8th Army from Warlord

Long time no see. I've not been idle in my absence. Here's a smidge of proof. I bought some of the winter-gear late-war Germans from Warlord way back last year some time, and have been slowly working on them. I also got one of those nice free sprues with a recent Wargames Illustrated. Have a look at some Allies having fun in the sun while the Axis chill out. Boom-boom.

I've yet to add snow to the Germans' bases. By and by I'll get up some photos of the rest of the reduced platoon of Winter Germans I have. The Brits are going to augment some Copplestone WWI Sikh infantry and some Renegade Miniatures WWI Scots.

As you may surmise, my gaming group isn't too harsh about historical accuracy. Truth be told, the Germans above are pretty likely to end up trying to raise great Cthulhu from his submarine entombment rather than counter-attack the US army in the Battle of the Bulge. Speaking of which, I repainted a Copplestone figure of late, who has been christened Major Rachmaninov in our games. Enjoy him, too. :)

Saturday, 24 November 2018

Star Wars Ramblings: Tector-class Star Destroyer

I was just reminded of the Tector-class Star Destroyer, and how weird it is, by the excellent YouTube channel EckhartsLadder in this video. I shall quickly place this odd ship in context. The Tector is an Imperial II-class (or Imperator II-class, if you prefer) Star Destroyer variant seen in one shot of Return of the Jedi, and its main distinguishing feature is that it only has a very small ventral hangar bay rather than one capable of containing Princess Leia's corvette. It also seemingly lacks the typical aftward bulb-like protrusion you see on most Star Destroyers.

Star Destroyers typically fulfil a battle-carrier role akin to that of the Battlestar Galactica in the eponymous franchise; they are heavily armed and armoured, and have a considerable fighter wing. Star Destroyers have retrospectively become a very poor design choice. This is due to a number of factors.
First, George Lucas did not really think his universe through, and wanted more shiny toys in the Prequels. This led to the odd situation where it's perfectly clear that a single Venator-class Star Destroyer (one of the earlier and weaker ships seen in Revenge of the Sith) carries a large enough fighter wing to overwhelm the defences of a Star Destroyer in the later period. I'd like to note at this point that if you give anyone effectively unlimited funding and carte blanche in their creations, you should not be surprised if things go awry.

Second, game designers and authors followed up on part of what we see in the films, giving players and readers the opportunity to participate in the plucky little fighters attacking these "city-sized" warships. Again, this is perfectly understandable.

However, as I said above, what we end up with is a situation where the notionally more advanced later ships are very much worse than the older ones. A swarm of small fighters can take out one of these large battlewagons in a prolonged fight because the larger ship possesses neither the point defence capability of older, smaller models, nor their fighter capacity, while the swarm carries a number of missile weapons capable of knocking down the target's shields and destroying it. Neither the ship's armour, nor its shields are capable of resisting this swarm attack. The vessels' ability to carry about 10,000 troops does not justify this odd situation. Truly, Star Destroyers have retrospectively becomes jacks of all trades, and masters of none.

There is the context. Into this milieu the Tector-class Star Destroyer is introduced. The ship lacks the aftward ventral bulb that distinguishes the Imperial and Imperial II classes. It's reasonable to infer that this means that she is more heavily armoured. The ship's reactor (which is what the bulb is) is more heavily protected in the ship's innards. The vessel also lacks significant ventral hangar bays, and other sources have clarified that this is not made up for by the provision of replacement hangar bays dorsally or on either flank. I'm not even sure, from what we see, that the ship is capable of launching or receiving Lambda-class shuttles. I am happy to be corrected.

The ship lacks the fighter protection enjoyed by its close relatives, sacrificing it for armour and shileding that, we have established, are not sturdy defences in-universe. Moreover, it sacrifices another of the Star Destroyer's typical roles: planetary invasion or the ability to put boots on the ground. Without a large hangar, there is no way to launch the mammoth four-legged AT-ATs, the companion two-legged AT-STs or "chicken walkers", or even large contingents of infantry.

What is this thing for? Typical Star Destroyers of the I-line have a crew of c.37,000 and pack in another 10,000 soldiers. I'm going with the figures of my youth, so bear with me if the canon has changed. I was surprised earlier to see that Interdictor-class cruisers are now 900 metres in length. They were 600 once. Anyway, this ship certainly doesn't need that many Stormtroopers and vehicles if it can't get them out. The sources suggest that this design of vessel superseded the Venator because it was sturdier, which is a terrible argument. It is more specialised for capital ship combat, ignoring the vital fighter element, and is incapable of effecting a planetary invasion.

My best justification for this ship is that it is a taskforce or fleet flagship. Extracting ten thousand men lets you put in all sorts of communications goodies, and with the additional armour, the ship can survive longer in combat, decreasing command and control problems. Frankly, that's not a great justification. It's a Star Destroyer, so it's already very difficult to destroy, and in a ship that's a mile long, you can probably find a couple of rooms to jam in all the personnel you need to coordinate a fleet.

That's the Tector-class, folks. It's a ship that doesn't really make sense in a place where ships don't really make sense. Perhaps surprisingly, given how exactingly I've taken it to task for its deficiencies, I rather like it!

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