Thursday 31 January 2013

Terrain Tutorial: a bunker fit for your 40K squad

Let's get down to brass tacks. First, grab yourself a suitably shaped container. The best thing I have yet found for bunkers for 40K is Swedish Glace's vegan ice-cream tubs (see Fig. 1), so that is what I am using here. With minimal alterations, these instructions will probably work with whatever plastic containers you have to hand.

1) Cut away the bottom of the container, and carve vision slits into the sides of the container. This sort of plastic is flimsy, so be careful not to gouge yourself. See Fig. 2.
2) Test fit the lid of the container on the bottom of the container. See Fig. 3. The tub I'm using has a loose fit, which is exactly what you want.
3) Get some 5mm thick foamcard. See Fig. 4. Cut it to fit the interior (or exterior, if you prefer) sides of the tub. In this instance I cut rectangles of 65 by 50mm, one for each of the sides I wanted to bulk out. See Fig. 5.
4) Glue alternating panels in place with a hot glue gun. See Fig. 6.
5) Trim the remaining panels to fit into the gaps, and then glue them in place with the hot glue gun. See Fig. 7.
6) Extend the vision slits you carved in the tub through the foamcard. See Fig. 8.
7) Knock up a door from some spare bits of plasticard. See Fig. 9. Glue the door in place, and use some foamcard offcuts to make a set of steps up to the door, if necessary.
8) Glue sand over the structure, taking particular care to avoid the door and not to block the vision slits. This sort of plastic does not take kindly to glue, so you will probably need to take a couple of passes at this. See Fig. 10.
9) Paint and you're ready to go.

As you can see from Figs 11 & 12, while a standing infantryman has "line of sight" out of the vision slits, the same cannot be said for the barrels of heavy weapons. My next article in this series of terrain tutorials will cover a few variations on this general build which can offer something potentially more appealing to the eye or gaming table.

Monday 28 January 2013

Star Fleet: Federation Reinforcements

Three new Federation heavy cruisers arrived last week. I had hoped, having been able to assemble the Mars and Gettysburg so easily, that this meant all the moulds were now my darlings, but it was not to be. Unfortunately, I had used up the last of my GS making some more mini-bunkers (a slight adaptation of the original design - watch for them in an approaching post), so I had to order some more. Happily, they are now complete, and my cruiser force for ACTA: SF is becoming a bit bonkers! I already had three Constitution-class (Enterprise, Hood and Intrepid), one Lexington-class command variant (Lexington) and one Gettysburg-class armoured command variant (Gettysburg), and now I have another three: Constitution, Farragut and Potemkin. Let the enemies of the Federation quake! Here they all are, folks! I have no idea what has happened to the formatting here.

Friday 25 January 2013

The Mystery of Father Brown

The BBC is currently showing a series of nine adaptations of G. K. Chesterton's Father Brown stories, and the series as a whole is something of puzzle. Chesterton's Father Brown is a diminutive man, whereas Mark Williams is a shade over six feet tall. The French detective Valentin has been transformed into the English Valentine, and the strong and towering Frenchman Flambeau has been used as inspiration for a diminutive scamp-cum-chauffeur called Sid. A gossip of an Irish parish secretary and a Polish immigrant cleaner have been added to the mix, because this is a series, and audiences need to be reassured by seeing the same characters every time. An aristocrat has been added purely to provide Father Brown with an excuse to be in some odd places, which is a striking claim, given that he turns up in the original stories without needing a protectrix. There is a short dialogue between the two writers of the series at this link, in which they explain that and other choices.

It has been a long time since I read the Father Brown stories. Indeed, I think it must be about a decade and a half if not two decades, so the memories are not fresh. Consequently, this new show led me to revisit Chesterton's work. Doing so led me to wonder what the heck was going on in this new TV show. Let me say, first, that this is daytime TV, so anyone approaching it with high expectations is over-generous or inexperienced. Having said that, the show is quite reasonable. Mark Williams is an enjoyable Father Brown, albeit one who seems less of a Catholic Priest of the 1950s and more a time-traveller from today, such are his sensibilities toward homosexuality, adultery and foreign religions. Nobody reasonable would expect a modern adaptation of The Wrong Shape to contain such sentiments as the loveable Father Brown expresses in the original. Hinduism, Indian art and India as a whole are damned as sinister and cruel. One would find it hard to sympathise with Father Brown if he had just deliberately insulted a mass of innocent people for no reason other than a dagger being made in "The Wrong Shape", which is what inspires his diatribe in the original.

Changes, I agree wholeheartedly, had to be made. Although the extent of the alterations are such that I am left thinking that this is not Chesterton's Father Brown, nor his stories. The date of the stories has been changed. Chesterton's first story was published in 1910, and at the beginning of The Wrong Shape he sets the scene in the year 18--. The characters have been altered, sometimes radically, or plucked from thin air, as I remarked in my initial paragraph. The geography is different, which is rather sad, as the original Father Brown would turn up all over the place, but is here confined to a little village. Last of all, the stories have been signally altered or, again, cut from whole cloth. If the characters are different, the date is different, the stories are different, and in some instances the solutions are different, is this really Father Brown? No, no, it isn't. The name seems to have been taken purely so that some storylines can be pillaged for elements the writers happen to like.

As to the characters, Mark Williams plays a cheerful, almost boisterous Catholic priest. Poor Hugo Speer plays Inspector Valentine, who has had one opportunity in the first six episodes to be nice, when he allowed Mark Williams illegal access to a confidential file. The whole rest of the time he is stuck playing a very surly Jones from Midsomer Murders. For those who have missed that show, there is an older detective, Barnaby, who is wise because he is old, and a young detective Jones, who is foolish because he is young. I am slightly oversimplifying. The character Sid seems to be something of a wheeler-dealer, which was mainly established by having people declare that "he may have gone too far this time" in one episode, in which he was wrongly suspected of beating up a man on a train and flinging him out the window. I can't imagine anyone would regard that as a spoiler, as the fact that he is a main character in the series establishes that he is not guilty. Well, maybe not in the last episode of the series, which is titled (and perhaps even based on) The Blue Cross, but who knows?

Sorcha Cusack seems to be having a whale of a time playing a frightful old woman. Nancy Carroll is convincingly posh enough for this middle-class man to accept that she is (although someone on IMDB has cuttingly remarked that no respectable lady should be carrying a copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover in the 1950s!). Kasia Koleczek has a somewhat perplexing role as an intermittently tragic Polish immigrant. I say perplexing because she ended up thrust into a main role in the adaptation of The Eye of Apollo, which was (again) nothing like the original, reusing only the elements of a mad cult and a rich lady "falling to her death".

In short, when my mother decided not to watch it on the ground that Mark Williams is too tall, I think she had it right. If you have a great affection for the original stories, and want to see them accurately rendered, you would be a fool to expect it of this show. I shall keep watching them for two reasons. First, a sense of curiosity impels me to find out what is going to be changed next, and more specifically, whether the seventh episode, The Devil's Dust, has got anything to do with anything Chesterton wrote. I suspect it of being a bizarre concatenation of fears about radiation resulting from Fukashima and the handy fact that the show is set in the fifties, when nuclear power is becoming a real prospect, and all the world knows the danger of the atomic bomb. Second, I would like to see if The Blue Cross, the last episode of this run of nine, is anything like the original, from which Father Brown is almost wholly absent, or if they have just nabbed the title and done something weird. I would really like to see Flambeau make an appearance, but who knows what the future may bring? Not I.

In conclusion, for daytime TV this would be perfectly adequate were it not for the fact that it purports to be an adaptation of a series of books, and is actually a wholesale reimagining. For it bears about about as much resemblance to the originals as do those Robert Downey Jr. films to anything Arthur Conan Doyle ever wrote. Sadly, because it is daytime TV, there are fewer explosions and fistfights to provide a cinematic distraction from the eccentricities of the show. If you do fancy something good with Mark Williams in, having enjoyed him as Mr Weasley in the Harry Potter films, let me recommend the first seasons of Red Dwarf, in which he has a small recurring role as a friend to Lister. Until next time, folks!

Wednesday 23 January 2013

Terrain Tutorial: Don't fence me in!

I am planning on getting under my belt a few games of the defunct Warhammer Historical's Old West rules, so I have been working on a bit of simple scenery for games: fences. You'll need the following:

* Hot glue gun and glue sticks
* Balsa wood (thin)
* Bamboo kebab skewers
* Sharp knife
* Superglue (gel, not liquid)
* Sand
* PVA glue
* Paints and brushes
* Material for bases
* Ruler

1) Prepare your bases. I used some plasticard. Cut it to strips about one inch (25mm) wide by six (150mm) long.
2) Place your knife on a round kebab skewer, and gently score a line in it every inch (25mm) or so. Snap along this line and tidy up as necessary. Do this until you have three or four pieces of skewer.
3) Take your thin balsa wood (use a thickness that look right to you), and cut strips of it that are 6" (150mm) long and about a quarter of an inch (6mm) wide.
4) Clear a space where you can leave glued things to set without the cat, wife, girlfriend, children, aliens or visitors trying to eat or decorate themselves with.
5) Place two pieces of cocktail skewer in the space you just cleared, and dab of small blob of superglue gel at one end of both, then lay one of your strips of balsa across both cocktail skewers. Leave to dry. Do be careful here. If you place the pieces too far from one another, they will not fit on your bases.
6) After a few minutes you can add another couple of blobs of superglue, and add a second balsa strip below the first. Leave to dry.
7) Glue a third piece of balsa between the two and leave to dry. If you want, you can add a fourth piece or even more.
8) Get the hot glue gun out and secure the ends of the skewers to the bases. By now they should look like Fig. 1.
9) Paint some PVA over the bases and scatter sand over it. Leave overnight to dry.
10) Paint some dilute PVA over the sand to secure it in place, and leave to dry.
11) Undercoat everything. See Fig. 2.
12) Paint the fences. I used progressively lighter greys for the wood, then progressively lighter browns for the earth. See Fig. 3. Once the paint is quite dry, you can add bits of grass and so on.

Although these were built with Wild West gaming in mind, they are quite suitable for various other things. You can see below an IG HW Team using them for cover, and do not be at all surprised if the British, French and German armies turn up behind them at some future date.

Bonus Music Video, folks. Enjoy!

Monday 21 January 2013

Terrain Tutorial: Earthworks for IG HW Teams + Painted Bunker

Good morning, folks! From the title you can see I have penned a follow-up to my mini-bunker idea from last time. If you want to depict an entrenched IG force from a lower tech world or one which has had to throw up defences more quickly, this is what you want. You will need the following.

* Hot glue gun and glue sticks
* Matchsticks
* Superglue
* Sharp knife
* Some old CDs
* Chunks of polystyrene
* PVA glue
* Sand
* Filler
* Cardboard
* Pencil
* Ruler
* Paint & brushes

1) Get a piece of light cardboard and copy the dimensions of the piece in Figure 1 (see below). Cut out the rhomboid marked with blue slashes. Retain the rest of the cardboard.
2) Glue this piece of cardboard to your CD with superglue (see Fig. 2). If you are making several sets of earthworks, you can cut a smaller pieces of cardboard to cover the hole in the other CDs.
3) Use either rhomboid or the silhouette left in the original piece of cardboard, and carefully cut out an indentation in a piece of polystyrene foam. Glue this onto the CD with the hot glue gun, making sure that you can fit your HW Team onto the base. See Fig.3.
4) Using your knife, carefully carve the sides of the foam so that they do not protrude over the edges of the base. See Fig. 4. Test fit your HW Teams. If the earthwork is too high at the front, use your knife to carve a dip in it. You want your guns to be able to fire out!
5) Cut a number of matchsticks to size, so that they appear to be stakes driven into the ground to support the internal walls of the earthwork. See Fig. 5.
6) If you are making a large number of earthworks, it is easiest to bring them all to this point before proceeding. For a load of earthworks, see Fig. 6.
7) Mix some filler, PVA glue and water together, and apply to the polystyrene foam. Try to avoid the matchsticks as much as possible. Leave to dry overnight. Once dry apply a diluted layer of PVA glue to fix the sand in place. See Figs. 7&8.
8) Paint the earthworks. I applied a basecoat of black, and then drybrushed the woodwork with progressively lighter shades of grey (Adeptus Battlegrey, then Codex Grey, then Space Wolves Grey), and then the earth with progressively lighter shades of brown (Burnt Umber artist's paint, then Khemri Brown, then Khemri Brown mixed with Dheneb Stone). Then I lightly drybrushed Dheneb Stone over the whole to unify all the colours. The bunker received the same shades of brown, while the structure was drybrushed with Charadon Granite, then Codex Grey, then Space Wolves Grey. The door at the rear was painted with a basecoat of Chainmail, then dirtied by adding "scratches" with other metallic colours, and tying it all together with a few washes. The buttons on the door control panel are just Mordian Blue. See Figs. 9&10.

Once I have finished painting all of this, I shall drag out my Heavy Weapon Teams, and get a shot of them all taking sensible cover against the enemies of the Imperium. I hope you find the above useful! Until next time, folks, goodbye!

Saturday 12 January 2013

Federation, Romulans, Countrymen! Er, planets, I mean.

A friend of mine popped over briefly from Korea just before Christmas, and kindly brought with him a load of plastic hemispheres he discovered in an art store. Although my planets are at present spheres, I am quite taken with the look and practicality of these things. For instance, it's far easier to judge where the orbital areas of planets start when they are just there on the table. Pictured below are the five planets, the largest of which is suitable for a gas giant, then there's a middling one and three fairly small ones, which will be more than enough for any battlefield. I've snapped some shots of Federation starships bearing transfers and zipping between them. Also included are some preliminary pictures of the Romulan fleet. Picture captions are as follows:

A: Three War Eagle Cruisers (the variant from the classic TOS episode Balance of Terror), and two King Eagle Cruisers (a more powerful command variant)
B: Four Battle Hawks and three Snipe Battle Frigates
C: In the front two SkyHawk Destroyers, and in the rear from left to right a SparrowHawk Light Cruiser, a FastHawk Heavy Cruiser (in my view the prettiest of the Romulan ships) and a FireHawk Heavy Cruiser (the model can represent either the FireHawk or the NovaHawk Command Cruiser variant)
D: In the rear two Condor Dreadnoughts, great flat things that can barely turn, and at the front a pair of Klingon-made KR Heavy Cruisers and another Romulan-refurbished Klingon ship, the KF5R Destroyer. The Klingon ships are rather attractive propositions when compiling a fleet list, as they still benefit from the Klingon special rule regarding forward shields.

Friday 11 January 2013

Mysterious Knowledge

There was a quiz show on the other night, and it was revealed that when they had asked a hundred people in which modern country the ruins of Troy were located, that only five of them had known it was Turkey. Sadly, they did not tell us where the other ninety-five had mistakenly located "the topless towers of Ilium". Perhaps at the South Pole, where the Nazis sought Atlantis!* Perhaps at Rennes-le-Château, where the Templars hid their gold!* Perhaps in the Money-Pit where lies hidden pirate booty!* I am sorry. I am currently reading Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which is all about secret societies, and very funny. Back in '04 I was working as a temp in an office, and one of my fellow temps was talking to me about Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, and said there must be something to it, as the Catholic Church was so vehemently against it. I stared at him for a moment, realised he was serious, so I nodded and mumbled something non-committal along the lines of "Mm" before changing the subject.

It is a grand theme, the Trojan War, which everyone should learn of. The two foundation stones of Western Literature are about it and its aftermath. Homer's Iliad tells of the wrath of Achilles, and The Odyssey tells of the roundabout journey home undertaken by Odysseus (known also as Ulysses, thanks to those confusing Romans, who spoke Latin, not Roman, because they lived in Latium. I said they were confusing). It always strikes me as funny when people refuse to look at these things, as they often think they will be too fancy or high-falutin'. Maybe it's because they're poems, and nobody reads poems these days. But people do listen to poetry all the time, never noticing it because it is being sung to them by people on MTV. These ancient works are longer than the things we hear these days, and you have to come up with the tune yourself, but the stories are as enthralling as ever.

Odysseus angers the god of the sea, which proves a bit of a mis-step. He has managed to end the Trojan War by sneaking a crack commando unit into the enemy city. The main Greek army and fleet retire out of sight, leaving behind a spy to deceive the Trojans. The crack commando unit is hidden within a great wooden horse, supposedly a Greek offering to the gods, but in fact nothing of the sort. The Trojans drag the horse into the city, unwittingly ensuring their own destruction. They think that after ten hard years of unremitting warfare, they have peace at last. They feast and drink, and then, as they lie about, useless for battle, the commandos clamber out of the horse and open the gates. The Greeks have sailed back, and their army rushes in, sacking the city, killing the men and enslaving the women.

So everything is done, and Odysseus can at last go home. He sets out, and his fleet is smashed by storms, his ship driven wildly off course. He and his crew have adventure after adventure, but the sort of adventure that gets you killed and, quite often, eaten. A murderous one-eyed giant tries to farm them like sheep. Their ship is nearly dragged into a giant whirlpool. Beautiful yet deadly women try to lure them onto rocks which would smash their ship and kill them all. They come to rest on a wonderfully hospitable island, teeming with life, with abundant food, and then suddenly it all comes crashing down. Their hostess is a malevolent witch, who turns the visitors to animals, and so the next ship that lands there eats the men who came before. She seduces Odysseus, and he remains there for years.

Meanwhile, Odysseus' kingdom, the island of Ithaca, is overrun by dishonourable men. They are trying to make his faithful wife, Penelope, marry again. She has her husband's cunning, and promises to choose a husband from among them when she has completed a tapestry. Every day she works on it, and every night she secretly unpicks every stitch she made in the day. Eventually, though, the suitors notice, and she is forced to pick a husband. Odysseus' son, Telemachus, has grown to manhood in his father's absence, but cannot fight off all these men who want to steal his kingdom. At the critical moment, Odysseus returns to Ithaca, disguising himself as a beggar, he sneaks back to his home, experiences the ignoble behaviour of the suitors, and engineers a contest. Whichever of the suitors can draw the great bow left behind by Odysseus, and fire an arrow through holes in a dozen axes in a row will be chosen to marry Penelope. None of them can manage it, and then the beggar achieves the feat, throws off his disguise, and with his son slays the men who would have stolen his kingdom. Of course, Odysseus' life does not end here . . .

* Neah, that's just silly.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Terrain Feature: Build a Baby Bunker for IG HW Teams

Today I return to 40K for a brief article on constructing weapon emplacements for your Imperial Guard Heavy Weapon Teams. To replicate the design below you will require the following:

* Plasticard (I used 0.25, 0.5mm and 2mm thickness)
* Polystyrene cement
* Cardboard
* Green Stuff
* Superglue
* Spare CDs or other things to use as bases
* Ruler
* Pencil
* Knife

Grab yourself a bit of cardboard. A cereal box would be fine. Mark yourself a square with sides of 3" (75mm), and cut it out. Find the midpoint of each side, mark half an inch (12.5mm) either side of this, so that there is an inch (25mm) marked in the middle of each side. Trace lines between these so as to create a slightly irregular octagon. Cut along these lines to create such an octagon. Using superglue, secure this template to the centre of your CD, remembering not to put glue where the hole will be, accidentally gluing it to your work surface!

Next cut some strips of plasticard. The height of the walls is 1 9/16" (40mm), which is sufficient to give plenty of headroom for Guardsmen. If you intend these bunkerettes for Space Marines, you may want to add some height. Cut the strips to those dimensions. I used 2mm thick plasticard for this step, and for each bunker made three walls of 1" (25mm) by 1 9/16" (40mm) by 4mm thickness. Using superglue, secure these three to three of the short sides of the octagon. I propped mine up with bits of Lego, wood and so on. Do not worry if they are not perfectly straight. To err is human.

Next I used 0.5mm thick plasticard, and cut strips to fit between the two long sides which join the three short sides together. Laminate these to create thicker walls, if you are using such thin plasticard. Once you have done this the structure is mostly complete. The front part of the bunkerette does need a vision slit so your models within can plausibly fire out at the villainous foe. I took the 40mm tall piece of 0.5mm thick plasticard, and left 14mm at the bottom, 10mm at the top, and found this allowed Lascannon and Autocannon to poke out nosily. For the two pieces that touch existing walls, and are on long sides, I also left a 10mm piece at one side, so the plasticard shape resembled a C (or a ]). The one remaining short side I created from a 14mm strip at the bottom and a 10mm strip at the top. I secured these to the 0.5mm long side-Cs with some strips 0.25mm plasticard, and then laminated all of theseto a reasonable thickness.

Next I got out the old Greenstuff and filled in all the cracks and crevices that would muck up the look of the model. That done, by trial and error I carved the roof. The roof is of two parts, both of 2mm plasticard. One sits atop the structure. I got this shape by inverting the bunkerette, and tracing around it. Then there is an inner piece of plasticard, one which fits within the lip of the building. Glue these two together, and it has the look of an inverted step when upside down. I added a round brass hook (which I shall paint as comms equipment) to make it easier to remove the top of the bunkerette. Add yourself a door at the back, and a control panel so folks can get in and out, and Bob's your uncle! If anything is unclear, these pictures should render it pellucid. If it remains murky, just drop me a line and I'll do my best to clear up any misconceptions! Happy wargaming, folks!

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