Thursday 25 December 2014

Merry Christmas!

Have a lovely Christmas, folks!

Saturday 22 November 2014

Will we know our next Shakespeare?

English is a funny old bird, and tricky to master. Shakespeare was a dab hand at it, and one way we know this is that he seemed to have a comprehensive knowledge of it. He didn't just type "dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum-dee-dum", but coined a large number of new words, which we employ to this day. There was no small number of authors in Bill's day, and since then the number has grown.

Writers are multitudinous today, and nobody employs neologisms like old Bill did. Nor does any writer expect their text to be scoured like Bill's. He is a figure very nearly of mythology. Tastes are broader. So will we know our next Bard? I know I won't.

Friday 17 October 2014

Painting up a Jagdpanther in 1/48

Some years ago I bought a few things in the above scale: a Pz III, a Sherman, a section of British and German infantry, and the above-mentioned tank hunter. I had some notion of doing a very small scale skirmish game, but nothing ever came of that. I got as far as painting the Sherman and undercoating the other tanks. The other week I was motivated to dig out the German vehicles and have a go at finishing them. Again, I have a vague idea about using them in some skirmish games, though I confess the Jagdpanther will be ridiculous overkill in comparison to anything else I have lying about. More thought is needed. Anyway, I didn't have any particular historical vehicles in mind as inspirations, just the general red-green-yellow camouflage scheme. The flash has been a bit unkind in highlighting the wear and tear - which is less obvious in the flesh. Here she is with a 28mm GWM WWI German officer for scale. There's plenty left to do, but I hope posting this will spur me on to get her done.

Monday 13 October 2014

Warhammer Historical: Great War Practice

It's been an absolute age since I've played a game of Warhammer - 40K or Fantasy - so I am dipping my toe back in the waters with a few small games. I decided to try the Blitz scenario from the rulebook, with 1914 Germans trying to push through the BEF and reach the 4' marker of the table. About where the two British artillery pieces can be seen. For the BEF I took the bare minimum of infantry, a single company of two small platoons (E and D) and one Company Command Section (B, hiding behind two pillboxes of dubious historicity), and augmented them with 2 HMGs and 2 18lb artillery pieces. I fully expected the German to overrun the BEF without much trouble.

On the German side, I used the Guards list, which is superior in close combat, while every infantryman has grenades, aiding him in assault. Some of my choices here were influenced by the comparative paucity of German models in my collection. I deployed a Colonel with a General Staff Officer and a full Battalion Command Section (1), a single HMG (2) and two off-table 77mm pieces (3, marked on table in accord with the rules), with which to support the attack. The left flank (1st Company: two platoons, 4 & 6, and a Command Section, 5) and the centre (two platoons, 7 & 9, and a Command Section, 8) were to advance, hopefully soaking up some damage, while the right flank, featuring a heavily reinforced platoon (12), a normal platoon (10) and another Command Section (11) was what I was hoping would do best by virtue of its superior numbers.

It was a very instructive experience. Having been used to the Imperial Guard, I'd never been accustomed to regarding Flak Armour as useful ere now, but when your basic troops don't get a save unless they are in cover or accept being pinned (unable to advance) in the next turn, it really brings it home. The German right flank got shot to pieces by artillery, while the central machine guns knocked out most of the attacking force in that area. The left flank advanced almost to contact before I abandoned play, and was probably going to push through the BEF platoon on that flank. The German HMG was useless, mainly because of my spectacular dice-rolling abilities. Turn 1: eight dice in sustained fire, requiring a 4+ to hit. None hit. No lesson to be learned there, aside from not letting one's infantry block one's fire. Things improved slightly, but not by much.

The German artillery was ineffective, which was my own fault for trying to take out the two pillboxes with the HMGs. I should have been better served firing on the infantry behind the walls. I erred in taking the walls to give a 3+ save when it was a 4+, and in failing to realise until the very end that the German artillery, being off-table, gained the Indirect Fire trait, which meant that the infantry shouldn't have had any save against it anyway! One round did miss the pillboxes and take out most of the Command Section, the officer legging it back up the road toward the artillery for one turn before he regained his composure. German rifle fire was ineffective, which is to be expected. With one shot at 12" if infantry move, they were never expected to do much. The BEF infantry was predictably good at shooting as the Germans closed the range. The problem for the BEF is that their basic infantryman is so very expensive. I've never been sure if the points value is adequately reflected in battlefield competence.

I think when I come to replay this game I'll pare the Germans down to two large companies of troops and a pair of off-table artillery pieces. The artillery will engage in a bit of counter-battery fire, as the Royal Artillery did some murderous good work, then focus on the infantry. On the British side, I will either remove one artillery piece and spare crewmen, and buy a third platoon for the defenders, or just trim down the spare crewmen and slightly enlarge the two platoons. at 1,000 points for the Attacker and 500 for the Defender, there really isn't a lot of room for anything else. Next game will be a bit different, anyway, as I plan to use my newly constructed canals, which will give the BEF less to hide behind, but may cause bottlenecks for the Germans.

Friday 10 October 2014

Terrain Construction: Canals

For the longest time I have been meaning to make some waterways, natural and unnatural. It seemed to make sense to start with canals, as they are easier to make, being more regular in appearance, and because they're just the sort of scenery one would want for 1914 BEF games.

* Foamcard or polystyrene tiles
*Thin card
* Plasticard (or other suitable basing material)
* Protractor
* Rulers
* Scissors
* Knife
* Pencil
* PVA glue
* Superglue
* Paints

 1. I cut some 1mm thick plasticard into 4" by 6" pieces. With it only being 1mm thick, I didn't want to make the pieces too long, lest they end up warping. The idea is for the pieces to be 4" wide with a 3/4" bank on either side, leaving a 2 1/2" waterway in the middle.

2. I then grabbed some foamcard and a few spare ceiling tiles. The foamcard I was able to superglue directly to the bases in 3/4" widths, but the ceiling tiles I glued to pieces of thin card, which I had already superglued to the bases. I reasoned that simply gluing them with PVA wouldn't provide a strong bond.

3. I cut some rectangles (and curved pieces) from the same thin card, and glued them atop the foamcard and polystyrene ceiling tiles to give the impression of stone flagstones. For the curved pieces I used an old protractor from my school days to mark out circles, then carefully cut the pieces to size with scissors (for the strips of card) or knife.

4. I undercoated everything with some artist's Prussian Blue. I then painted strips of white closest to the stonework, a medium blue strip between that and the middle, then added water and PVA to the Prussian Blue and applied that over all to bring the colours together.

5. After it dried I painted the stonework in a dark grey, and dry-brushed it progressively lighter. After that I applied washes and spots to the stonework to make it look somewhat discoloured and irregular.

6. I ended up with 4 * 90-deg corners, 4 * 45-deg, 1 * X-piece, 2 * T-junctions, and 13 * straights. So I can make a 6 1/2' long canal if need be. The plans for the river are for it to include 12' of straights. After the river/stream pieces are complete, I'll set to work on bridges. Since the canal and river will share dimensions, they will be capable of being linked together.

Monday 6 October 2014

Inadvertent Gardening

There's something very relaxing about strolling round the garden. Although lately I've found this not to be quite the case. Mum's been worried some of our trees have grown a bit much, and could clip lorries on the road, so my brother's been up a ladder cutting them down. So on Thursday and Friday afternoons my strolls were interrupted by seeing this, and a recognition that I need to help out. We have moved a lot of branches, mostly small ones, though not all. We have coal fires, so this will also be a helpful thing come winter. As you can see below, we'll seem extremely posh with oak burning on the fire.

We shifted about ten or fifteen times the weight of the branch below, but it was the largest single thing I moved. I had hacked and sawed in half the branch my brother had lopped off the tree, and didn't fancy cutting it down further. So I balanced this thing on my shoulder, and carried it around the house to the outdoor woodworking area. For scale, that's a standard pallet about three foot on each side. I have a new-found admiration for folks who toss the caber!

Not exactly light wood!

Friday 19 September 2014

Scotland: Phew!

I am rather pleased that voters in Scotland have decided against independence. I am not triumphant about it, just quietly pleased. I really didn't want to see the Union dismembered, but if it had been the will of the folk living there, it would have been a sad but necessary thing to accept. Happily, that has not happened. Nonetheless, my sincere sympathies go to my friends who were in favour of independence. However, the division in support is so marked that it's clear voters in Scotland are distinctly unhappy about the present state of politics in the UK. Many spoke of voting for independence as though it was about escaping the clutches of unpopular London, which is probably a perspective shared by much of the country. That is to say, there is a feeling that the capital disproportionately sucks talent, people and money from the rest of the country.

Some years ago, the Labour government came up with the idea of regional assemblies for the UK, which didn't fly in part because folk weren't keen on another layer of untrustworthy politicians slicing off taxpayers' money. Given how successful the Scottish devolution campaign has been in acquiring additional powers and funds for such a small proportion of the inhabitants of the UK, however, I would wager this notion, were it resurrected, would see more support this time around.

That and other considerations are in the future. For now, I'm simply pleased voters in Scotland decided against leaving the Union. Hopefully we can try to sort things out together.

Saturday 9 August 2014

Fantasy Flight Games - Star Wars: Armada

Last night, as I write this, I just received the best news ever. In addition to X-Wing, which deals with fighter combat in the Star Was universe, FFG are set to release a capital ship combat game in early 2015. I have been wanting and waiting for an official SW capship game since I read Timothy Zahn's first Thrawn book in the nineties, so more than half my life. This is the most exciting hobby news I have heard in an age. Announcement here. The initial look of the box is three pre-painted capital ships (Imperial Victory-class Star Destroyer, presumably Rebel Nebulon-B Frigate and Corellian Corvette) with some unpainted fighters denoting squadrons. Squinting at the display of contents, I can make out cards for Grand Moff Tarkin and General Dodonna, a character in white with an Imperial Naval Trooper behind him (so perhaps Yularen of Intelligence), a woman in front of what seems to be an Imperial-style window (so possibly Daala or Isard), and a load of cards I can't identify. If these cards are the same size as those used for FFG's X-Wing game, enterprising folks should be ale to get a idea of the size of the VSD and other modes. The scale of the capital ships looks a bit inconsistent to me. I wouldn't expect the fighters to be to scale, as they'd be fighting angels for room on the head of a pin. This may be inevitable, as the iconic corvette is only one sixth as long as this small Star Destroyer (and only half the length of the Nebulon-B) if rendered in the same scale. We'll see. Anyway, may the Force be with you, folks!

Wednesday 6 August 2014

The Keyboard Curse

Even I have to admit to being less than balletic in my movements. So when I accidentally tipped a glass of coke over my laptop some time ago, it was infuriating, but hardly unpredictable. It didn't much matter that half the keyboard was killed, happily, as I've a wireless USB mouse and keyboard connection. However, when the keyboard subsequently died of old age (was it perhaps as old as four whole years?) it was a bit of a pain. Especially as we didn't seem to have any spares in the house. After a week or two of bashing at the on-screen keyboard, it turned out Dad hadn't heard me, so I'm back with a brand old keyboard. I'll try to get some things up shortly.

Tuesday 8 July 2014

A little renovation

We've been doing a spot of carpentry here. The painting is largely finished, although a couple of external windows are getting a bit of special attention. Here are some shots of a downstairs door. The duller portions of blue hadn't seen a lick of paint since some time in the '90s, apparently. The other picture is the carpentry I mentioned. From the garden I realised the wood on one of our windows had quite rotted away. Like a flash my brother had removed it, and we spent three hours removing the damaged section and fashioning a replacement. The refurbished part is going up in an hour or two. Prospective burglars reading this should note that there are four of us in the house, and they'll need Spiderman-like agility to reach the missing window! I'll do my best to get a shot for comparison, but the weather's gone a bit grey here, so a similarly sunny picture might demand a day or two.

Monday 16 June 2014

Imperial Guard: Heavy Weapons Team (Mortar)

Although I've been a bit off my game lately I did manage to get a mortar team finished just a little while ago. Looking at it now, it's unintentionally a colour scheme from the IG Codex before last. I've run out of that shade of green, so there'll not be another team in the same outfit.

Friday 13 June 2014

Book Review - Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire: A Short Story Collection

Flashing Steel, Flashing Fire: A Short Story Collection

First, a disclaimer: several years ago I met the author on the alternate history website he mentions in some of his introductory pieces, and later in person. He's a nice chap.

The book comprises ten short stories, each around 20-40 pages in length. They cover a wide range of topics: alternative history (or alternate history), horror, science fiction and fantasy, often in combination. Two of the stories (Coil Gun and Picking up Plans in Palma) are set in an alternative world in which a racist Boer empire takes the place of our history's Soviet Union in opposition to the United States. They are quite different in tone, as one is adventure-filled and surprisingly romantic, with a clear villain, while in the other the prevailing feeling is that both sets of protagonists are real people faced with terrifying choices.

Lord Giovanni's Daughter is a rip-roaring yarn in the mould of Robert E. Howard's Conan adventures, featuring a barbarian hero who comically subverts expectation by planning to buy a library with the money he aims to get for rescuing the beautiful princess from the villainous snake-men. Two of the stories (Nicor and I am the Wendigo) deal with the two different perspectives of monsters feasting on men - the men it hunts in Nicor and the beast itself. The protagonist in Nicor has a disturbingly close-to-the-bone epiphany, which echoes in one's head as one finishes the latter story. I recommend reading the two in sequence to get the full force of it. Melon Heads takes urban legends and runs with the idea for a story that is truly disturbing on several levels, while making you wonder whether the humans are as bad as or worse than the monsters.

Illegal Alien and Westernmost Throne deal in different ways with protagonists in circumstances beyond their control, who are still trying to master their bleak situations. Both have to make hard choices to survive. Lord of the Dolorous Tower is a delightful story about two young adventurers exploring an ancient warlord's ruined tomb, and getting rather out of their depth. The Beast of the Bosporus is a fun and creepy homage to the Lovecraftian canon in an oft-ignored historical setting. There are some very telling depictions of human character in these tales, particularly in Coil Gun, but Matthew's main strength is in zippy, entertaining - and often rather alarming - tales. I heartily recommend this work. It's available here on Amazon, in both paperback and in electronic format for the Kindle.

Wednesday 4 June 2014

Terrain: Barn Built

Inspired by the excellent Terrain for Hippos, I decided to put together a thatched building. I realised toward the end I'd forgotten to add a chimney or any hole in the roof at all, so this'll be a barn. I cut out some walls and roof sections, pinned and glued them together on a 7" by 8" base. Then I cut some balsa strips to make the supports, door and window, and glued on strips of a recently-deceased towel to make the thatch. I secured the thatch by painting watered-down PVA glue onto it. After that I applied some filler to the walls for a bit of texture, and some sand to the base for the ground. Then I got out the paintbrushes and gave it a good going over, finally adding three shades of static grass and some clump foliage in a couple of spots. Here she is with a couple of 28mm lads for scale. A Copplestone palaeontologist and a Great War miniatures BEF officer. I have a lot of towel left, and found some of that much recommended teddy-bear fur upstairs when doing a spot of cleaning at the weekend, along with a roof for a building I never finished. So watch this space for a few more of these!

Monday 2 June 2014

1/72 Kettenrad and Kuebelwagen

Digging through some bits and bobs the other day, I turned up this adorable pair of Wehrmacht vehicles. I decided to make the car a lot muckier, as though it's been on a cross-country dash through the lines. That must be how it lost one wing mirror and the windscreen. I wonder where they have ended up. The Kettenrad, by contrast, is pretty clean, and must have been sitting around an aerodrome somewhere in the desert. These two must have been sitting around for years. I remember as a student I had some idea of doing a "What if?" game set at the Maus testing facility, and I had a few of these small vehicles around primarily for colour. As with so many plans, nothing came of it, but the vehicles are still sitting about. Unusually, they're only in three places, despite numbering about twenty. Unusually restrained storing behaviour on my part!

Friday 30 May 2014

Star Fleet: Disaster/Victory at Attica Beta

It's been a while since I played a game of ACTA: Star Fleet. In fact, the last time we tried out the new drone rules, which were a bit burdensome. So I reverted to the old ones this time. I ran a practice game against myself, mainly to reacquaint myself with the rules, which worked. I totally dropped the ball on several things, as you'll see. The scenario was Call to Arms, which pretty much amounts to "You have eight turns to shoot one another to death. Terrain is optional." I fancied loading one fleet into a few high value ships, and giving the other an Initiative and movement advantage. One alternates movement by ship in this game, so if you have more ships, you can outmanoeuvre your opponent. The fleets were as follows.

Federation Taskforce:
Flag: USS Mars, Mars-class Battleship  (the large model with four nacelles
USS Farragut and USS Yorktown (to the starboard and port, respectively, of Mars), Constitution-class Heavy Cruisers
USS Carolina, Escort Cruiser

USS Reliant (a model from Shapeways, used because it's the Reliant, of course!), Discovery-class (?) New Scout Cruiser

Klingon Fleet:
IKS Revenge, D7C Command Cruiser (represented by FD7 model with a bullet-shaped prow rather than the other cruiser's standard curved triangle)
IKS Doom, D5WD Drone Cruiser (her third nacelle, located on the centreline on her rear hull, makes her stand out)
IKS Brazen and Bombardier, D6 Heavy Cruisers (the two identical other cruisers)
IKS Interceptor and Invidious, F5 Frigates (the larger pair of small ships)
IKS Mosquito and Gnat, E4 Light Frigates (the tiny wee things)

Having experienced severe frustration in previous battles because it's effectively impossible to fix ships when things break as a result of enemy fire, all the ships involved had high Crew Quality ratings. In practice, this meant everything was fixed at once, but these are most of the highest-rated ships in the fleet, so it seems fine. In terms of terrain, the only piece of any import was the dust cloud. It shaded the Feds and their opponents equally, but obscured the entire Federation fleet at the beginning of the battle. The two asteroid fields and planetoid never got a look-in. The Feds won the pre-battle Initiative roll, forcing the Klingons to deploy first. I placed the heavy ships on the left and the light ones on the right, having some misplaced idea about distracting the Federation fire with the light ships.

The Klingons won the Initiative roll for the first turn, and I advanced the right flank of small ships. The Federation force moved en bloc into the dust cloud, where it would contentedly remain for a while, doing nothing more strenuous than move a few inches or turn on the spot. USS Reliant proved her weight in gold by blocking a lot of enemy fire. She also did some illegal things, as I realised as I looked more closely at the rules. The Klingons aimed to take out the Mars, reckoning correctly that at more than one third of the cost of the fleet, her loss would gut it. However, I forgot that she was also the most heavily-protected ship on the board, defended by the Reliant's Scout functions, the Carolina's escort capabilities, and her own massive armament and shielding. The Federation instead elected to shoot at the closest targets, which saw the small Klingon ships bloodied and beaten. One F5, IKS Invidious, is destroyed by the Carolina's drones. An E4, IKS Mosquito, is blasted into dust by Mars' weapons.

As the disaster on the right flank became apparent, turn 3 saw the Klingons decide to get the hell out of Dodge before anything else went disastrously wrong. Federation sensors spotting the Klingons preparing to go to high warp, however, led to the Federation squadron charging across the battlefield, and unloading an obscene number of photon torpedoes right down the throat of the very expensive (and seriously under-performing) D5WD Bombardment Cruiser. A lot of the Federation ships' previously useless aft-firing phasers went toward the surviving small ships. The cruiser Yorktown destroys the second F5, IKS Interceptor, with rear phaser fire. Farragut fires the crucial shots that mangle the D5WD, two of her photons passing straight through the enemy's shields, and following up with some equally effective phasers, which demolished her shields and crippled her. Reliant did some tidying up, destroying both the E4 Gnat and the D5WD. Although the Klingons fired back with all they had, it caused nothing more serious all game than two criticals (both at once repaired) and some moderate hull and shield damage to Mars and the two heavy cruisers.

In retrospect, employing such small ships against an enemy battleship was a bad idea. I ended up trying to bring them into effective combat range, which is very low, thus endangering them. I should have either selected a mass of small ships or made everything medium-sized and capable of enduring some punishment. Putting them on the flank meant they were an even more distinct target than if they had been amidst a lot of cruisers. Finally, their separation from the cruisers and proximity to the Federation ships meant they were in a horribly exposed position when the final turn came. I should also have remembered that the Reliant and Carolina were force multipliers, and considered eliminating them before trying to damage the battleship. From the Klingon perspective, the best thing that can be said is that I was reminded of what not to do!

You can see the battle unfold approximately below. I tried to take photos as things proceeded, but a few of these are staged afterwards, so apologies for any continuity errors.

Wednesday 28 May 2014

ACW: Baccus 6mm all-arms Confederate force

As well as the 15mm ACW chaps, I've also been working on some of Peter Berry's 6mm lads. I decided to have a little test run of one of each kind of unit. The cavalry regiment here is twice the size of a normal one, because nine figures to me. So instead 18 men and horses are taking up more space than 28 infantry on the corresponding base. I feel it both looks more visually appealing and it indicates just how much space a horseman takes up compared to an infantryman. The bases here aren't finished, and I need to find out whether I have any Confederate flags for the infantry, but they're mostly done, so I can start rolling out some more units. I think I bought a divisional pack back in the day, so there's one more Union cavalry unit, but a wealth of Rebel and Union infantry and artillery.

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