In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

In which I blog about my miniature wargaming and whatever else takes my interest!

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Some Boxes of Nostalgia

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My first book of rules!
Many years ago, when I had a younger man's dreams and ambitions, I had a friend at University. Together we played on my apartment floor with my armies of Airfix and Esci plastic Napoleonic figures, fighting over plywood hills, a half dozen plastic trees and some houses made from card and poster paints. The rules we used were an amalgamation of Tricolor (published by TSR in 1975 and they cost me the astonishing sum of $5.00- which had been quite a bit on my allowance during High School) and ideas I had subsequently picked up from Charle's Grant's The War Game and Peter Young's Charge!

With an infusion of figures from my friend Don, I had built up quite an array. The British fielded several brigades, including a Light Brigade of green jacketed riflemen, cavalry with heavy dragoons (French cuirassiers painted red) and Brunswickers (infantry, hussars and artillery). The French fielded a corps of 3 small divisions plus a cavalry division (paint the cuirassiers green and they're now dragoons!) and some allied Swiss, Saxons and Nassauers. I also had a force of Prussians including dragoons (Esci Scots Greys painted blue) and uhlans and a large force of Austrians with Hungarians, Grenzers, heavy and light cavalry and a brigade of grenadiers. Those Airfix "Waterloo British Hussars" and "Waterloo French Cuirassiers" really got around! I used kneeling figures for skirmishers. I added plumes with plasticene hardened with nail polish to make voltigeurs and grenadiers. I turned extra British infantry into Foot artillery crews and extra Old Guard Grenadiers into Guard artillery crews. I do recall being rather frustrated that I had a lot of extra highlanders but could not think of anything to convert them into. I didn't really need 12 battalions of highlanders!

The games were epic. 2 dozen Cuirassiers became Ney's Cavalry Reserve charging home! A dozen white coated battalions were the Austrians at Lipzeig! My 6 or 8 battalions of Prussians were Blucher's army arriving in the smokey dusk at Plancenoit.

With a grad student's paltry means and debts to pay I sold my Napoleonic armies to my friend (I think he paid far too much). Life took its course and we went our ways. My friend spent many years searching the world for meaning and we lost touch. I tried to find him several times but his name is very common.

He, however, kept my armies wherever he went and after finally settling down and getting on with life, was one day cleaning up his gaming closet (as one does after one has been living a life for a while) and rediscovered our armies and remembered our games and friendship. Thanks to the joys of the internet and Facebook he found me and re-established the link.

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This past week he was in the area and came by to catch up on the last couple of decades. We were both a bit nervous at first, but that soon fell away as we both recognized each other behind the grey hairs and jowls. He gave me three boxes. Two I immediately recognized as the wooden boxes my late father had made to store my soldiers in. Inside were all our plastic brigades, much the worse for many moves but still recognizable.
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Ack! Carnage!
The cavalry was certainly the worst off. But then those Airfix horses didn't stay on their stands terribly well even back then. The bottom of each box had a fine layer of dust, a few dead bugs and powdered paint. Paint was flaked off, guns and wheels were broken, standards missing. Horses and riders were separated and I only found one limber in one piece! Occasionally while sifting through the piles of dead I found a newer figure that I did not paint. My friend had obviously tried to build upon his initial purchase. But I've tried to find some of the better examples of the armies I had in my gaming life that was. Some of these I painted when I was 14 or 15 I think. Not bad for a kid.

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Some French. Old Guard. Legere, Chasseurs a Chaval and Dragoons

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Allies. Nassau. Dutch Grenadiers. Swiss and Italians with a Saxon Cuirassier.

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Prussians. Landwehr, Jaegers and Line infantry.

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British. Highlanders, Line infantry with a Hussar and Dragoon.

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Austrians. Grenadiers, artillery, kneeling Grenzers, musketeers (Hungarian and German) with a dragoon and cuirassier in the back.

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The Hussars might be Brunswickers, or they might be Prussian "Death's Head" Hussars. But Brunswick horse artillery and a lone Brunswick infantryman.

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Some of my plasticene plumes survived! French troops with a British gun converted into a howitzer by cutting the barrel short.

I don't think he ever built the Russians he wanted to add to the collection, or even played with them again. But they prompted him to get in touch after many years and renew an old friendship. He even plans to come to Hotlead next year, hopefully we'll get a chance to play.

Friday, July 27, 2012

New Steam Tank

My friend Dan decided I didn't have enough steam tech for our occassional VSF battles. I only have the one tank, so he built me another using the RAFM three wheeled steam tank as a basis [which I cannot find in their catalogue to give you a link].

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He thought it was a bit small so he added a Bandai (?) 1/48th scale Pz34(t) turret (all those lovely rivets!) and swapped the 37mm cannon for a Maxim gun. He then made the cupola a bit bigger and added a RAFM British officer.

Peter is happy. His Russians needed more targets.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Warlord Rangers and Ruined Hamlet: a Review

Warlord just sent me a box of their 28mm US Rangers and a sample bag of their new ruined hamlet pieces.

The Rangers box contains 5 identical sprues of troops, 3 identical weapons sprues and a bag of metal Ranger accessories and extra heads. The frames are labelled "US Infantry" so I think the upcoming US Infantry box will be the same but without the metal Ranger accessories.
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Each sprue will make 5 soldiers. You get 5 torsos, 5x 1 inch circular stands, 8 different heads and 13 pairs of arms. There are also rucksacks, canteens, bayonets and ammo pouches to attach to the moulded on web belts.

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The weapons sprue contain a bazooka, a BAR, some Thompson SMGs and M1 carbines, a 'Grease Gun' SMG and a selection of pistols and rifles.
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The bag of metal Ranger gear has all you could want to storm the battery at Pont-du-Hoc; wire cutters, Bangalore torpedoes, axes and a flame thrower. There are also extra heads, small packs and ammo pouches.
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Initially I was put off by all the pieces and needing to glue weapons into hands, but I started playing about and found that by my fourth or fifth figure I was assembling them in about 10 minutes each. There is a learning curve with these to get the figure to come out the way you want it too and you have to think ahead a bit.

I found gluing torso to base, then adding on ammo pouches and other stuff to the belt before selecting arms was important. Making sure he had the different Thompson or BAR magazine pouches if he was going to be armed with that and making sure the bayonet and canteen were hanging were a soldier would carry them for comfort and ease of use. Then I thought about what I wanted my soldier to be doing, tried a pair of arms out and pondered how the chosen weapon would fit. I then glued the arms in place and used the few minutes of the joint being soft to glue the weapon in so I could get a snug fit at the shoulder if he was firing. Last to go on was the head so I could make sure he was looking where the weapon was aiming.

I found the metal heads needed a bit of trimming at the neck to make them fit, but the plastic heads sat in the hole perfectly and allowed a good deal of rotation.

Here are the figures I put together in one morning's session. The running rifleman and BAR gunner were my first attempts. I was still a little fuzzy on the proper arm choice. I've given all my G.I.s rucksacks and most have entrenching tools.

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Here's my LT shouting directions. I used some bits from the Ranger accessories to totally gear him up. So I gave him a flashlight and extra grenades plus another small pack on his hip.

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Here's my First Sergeant; chomping a cigar while clearing a room with his Thompson.
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One figure on each sprue is kneeling. I was still fuzzy on the arms and wanted him shooting but ended up with him looking like he's ready to sprint to the next piece of cover instead.
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With my last three I finally got the hang of the shooting pose I think.
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I really like the detail and animation of the resulting figures. The pieces were all cleanly moulded and well detailed. The plastic rifles and bayonets are nice and in scale when compared with the overly thick metal sculpts. I also get a cheap thrill that my figures are unique. I doubt anyone will make the same choice in gear and pose as I do. The conversion potential for these figures is quite high as we've already seen demonstrated by Games Workshop kits and what people have been doing with the Perry Wars of the Roses figures.

The ruined hamlet pieces were an interesting mix. I think what I got was one 'building's' worth or a third of the boxed set. The Warlord site says you get enough to build three ruined houses. The parts are all detailed on both sides so you can change the orientation of them. There are strategically placed bumps on the two story walls to support the floor section and I used one on the outside to anchor the chimney section. The corner brick sections help reinforce the corners and hide the seams.

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They say you can use these for Napoleonic battles as well, but I think that these buildings have been pretty heavily shelled with a lot of holes knocked in them by high velocity shells. I suppose Plancenoit looked badly used by the end of the day, but I think these ruins are more suited to WW1 or WW2 battlefields.

I managed to get one house, a smaller out building or cottage and the ruined corner of a third building out of the pieces sent to me. A nice detail is some plastic piles of rubble to set along the bottom of the walls or in corners. Once based up with additional piles of rubble and craters made from Gorrilla Glue and fish tank gravel or cat litter, they will make convincing terrain for much of Europe.
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I've ordered some of each for the store. If you don't mind assembling plastic figures then these are recommended. As I said earlier, I was put off at first by assembling plastic kits, but with some decent brush on glue I've gotten to like them and am now pondering getting myself a box of Germans to fight them.... sigh.
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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

This Old Hovel: A Tale of Two Cottages

I thought it would be interesting to do a comparison of two new Medieval cottages on the market; the new plastic kit by Perry Miniatures and the laser cut wood kit from 4Ground. I've made all the thumbnails small, since this rather picture heavy. Click to enlarge.

The 4Ground kit doesn't waste any money on fancy packaging. It comes flat packed like Ikea furniture in a plastic bag with simple card header. But at least you don't need an allen wrench to put it together.
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The Perry kit comes in the usual box with inspiring picture.
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The 4Ground kit comes prepainted and precut. But don't punch out all the pieces at once! There are identifying letters to help with assembly.
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The instructions are well illustrated and easy to follow.
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The Perry kit comes on three sprues. Two with parts to the house and the pig sty.
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The third sprue is a handy set of wattle fencing (75 cm in length) to keep the neighbours pigs out of your turnips. The assembly instructions are pretty simple and on the back of the box.
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The 4Ground cottage went together quickly with some white glue and rubber bands to keep the tension on while the glue dries. The parts were all very cleanly cut and went together easily. A bit of dry fitting first is recommended and using a paper towel to remove excess glue along the seams is also a good idea. But everything went together square and tight. This is the result of maybe half an hour's work. Notice the interior wall detail.
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Next the thatching is glued on and left to dry for 24 hours.
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The Perry kit went together reasonably easily as well. Although I had a few more issues with fit and keeping things in place while glue stuck. But this was also done in about half an hour.
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The next day I coated the teddy bear fur thatch with watered down white glue and set it aside to dry and then undercoated the Perry kit in my usual burnt umber base coat.
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It then took a couple of hours to paint the Perry cottage, but here are a pair of Foundry figures checking out the new real estate. Notice I glued some flock to the tabs holding the wattle fencing up and have trimmed the edges of the thatch on the 4Ground model.
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And here are some of my Old Glory figures trying things out. I'm not sure how much cover some wattle fencing will give, but a +1 is better than nowt.
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A Reaper(?) maiden checks out the Perry cottage. Perhaps she's hoping there are Seven Dwarfs living inside. I decided to paint the timbers in the lighter greenish grey tones used on the box. Notice the door also opens if you're careful during assembly and painting.
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A less joyful peasant checks out the 4Ground cottage. The door also opens on this model. The two hinge tabs are just pressure fitted into notches on the door frame.
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Interior view. Rather clean for a Medieval hovel methinks. I saw the same kit pimped up on The Guild Forum and the person had glued bits of 'straw' around the edges and in the corners and darkened the interior to make it more smokey and generally squalid. The square is supposed to be a hearth or firebox. It needs some burnt charcoal and ends of logs.
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Here's my complete village. I got another pack of the wattle fencing from Renedra which contained two more sprues, so now I've got 225cm of fencing to keep the livestock out of the turnips. Of course now I've decided I need livestock and maybe a dung heap and some woodpiles too!
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The Perry kit retails in my store for Cdn$26.99. The Renedra fencing set is Cdn$14.99. The 4Ground kit is now in my store for $14.99. The Medieval Dwelling is only $21.99 and the larger High Medieval Cottage complete with loft is a modest $28.99. [4Ground kits and links updated 28 August 2012]

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

A Hero's Autobiographry

When on my courses at Borden several of my colleagues had I met General Hillier once stories, illustrating the General's ability to relate to and connect with junior officers and NCMs under his command. The awe-filled, hero-worshipping tone used to talk about the former Chief of Defense Staff is perhaps unique for soldiers talking about General officers since WW2. And I can't think of any other CDS who has been so well known in a country were we often need to be reminded of who our Member of Parliament is.

So when I found General Hillier's autobiography A Soldier First; Bullets, Bureaucrats and the Politics of War (Harper Collins, 498pp) for $4 in a charity shop I had to get it. For many who wear the Canadian Forces uniform, Hillier is hero. He is held responsible for singlehandedly rebuilding the CF and pulling us out of decades of budget cuts, personnel cuts and increased commitments to try and engage in 'peacekeeping' in failed states without clear objectives or functioning equipment.

The book follows his life from childhood to retirement, and of course, spends a lot of time on his career as an officer in the Canadian Army. In each stage he talks about lessons learned that he took with him into his future commands and the many inspiring people he worked for, with and even some of the troops under his command. He also talks about how he had some terrific, career changing opportunities, such as going to the US Army's Advanced Armoured Officer Course in Ft Knox or later on serving as an exchange officer with III Corps in Ft. Hood Texas, serving as that formation's training and operations officer. The ability to learn how to control more troops than the entire Canadian Army was a huge opportunity that he could never have gotten in Canada where exercises at greater than battalion level were seriously curtailed by budget cuts. He also made a lot of strong personal bonds with much of the US Army's senior command which helped both countries forge a stronger alliance and working relationship in the post-9/11 world and Afghanistan campaigns. That is a theme he revisits throughout his book; strong personal relationships between individuals are much more effective than bureaucratic process for getting things done.

It's not about organization, structure, process or management: it's people who accomplish things, and they need to be inspired, informed, enabled and supported. (p.237)

I think I'd like that drilled into the head of every MBA, CEO and VP in the business world. There's far too much management and not enough leadership in this world.

Even though Hillier coined the phrase "decade of darkness" to describe the state of the Canadian Forces during the '90s he does his best to give credit where it is due. Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin started the rebuilding process by pumping much needed money into the Forces. Hillier as the new CDS just provided the vision to direct that money into where he thought it needed to go for the CFs changing mission in a post-Cold War world. He also credits that solid working relationships with two different PMs (one Conservative, the other Liberal), three Ministers of National Defence and various cabinet ministers (in two different governments) who could navigate the political process was essential for getting anything done, such as urgently needed heavy lift helicopters for Afghanistan or a pay raise for the troops!

One thing he does not need to share the praise for though, is a cultural change in the CF and how Canada views it. The "Cold Warriors" were very much aloof from Canadian society, in a world apart and not terribly well understood. They were just seen as 'peacekeepers' and requests for more funding to update weapons systems and worn equipment or even just for ammunition to train with, were met with a lack of will, because all we needed to man ceasefire lines was some binoculars and sunblock. The Canadian Forces were just Civil Servants and an extension of the Foreign Affairs office not soldiers. Hillier recognized the need to change that relationship however. If Canada wanted to stay on the world stage we needed to get behind our Armed Forces. So he began what he called his 'Recruit the Nation' campaign and used his high profile status and some celebrities to draw media attention towards the servicemen and women and the important, demanding and often dangerous jobs they were doing on behalf of a rather neglectful and ungrateful nation. Here's a clip done by popular Candian comedian Rick Mercer who in his weekly Rants would take on issues of the day:

It worked better than he expected and average Canadians, once they were aware of the CF and the sacrifices they were making responded with a huge outpouring of emotion from buying individual servicemen at airports a coffee to massive crowds when each body came home from Afghanistan. It made Canadian soldiers proud to wear the uniform again and I don't think any other retiring General has had junior NCMs openly weep when he left the service since maybe Napoleon went into exile.

I'll finish off with another quote from his concluding chapter:

Most importantly, everyone who wore a uniform had experienced a cultural revolution. We were proud to wear our uniforms, but we also had confidence in who we were-warriors first and foremost, able to do any task- with a first responsibility to finish tough, often violent tasks when Canada needed them done. Our country had not seen this military culture since the Second World War. The immense frustration at the ignorance of so many who labelled us "only" peacekeepers had disappeared. Canadians knew that no matter how easy or tough the mission, whatever it was our country needed doing, we could do it. That was as important for those in uniform to learn as it was for those outside the CF. Amusingly, this actually made life more difficult in Ottawa. We were at war in Afghanistan, while the mandarins processed paper.

Some Progress!

The observant among you will notice that I've now got the logo to my new eCommerce venture up in the corner. It includes a hyperlink to take you to the store Martin and I are busily setting up.

After casting about to get some technical help and even finally, going to local computer service providers who (presumably) do this sort of thing for a living (at least they say they offer the service on their websites) and not getting any response to my request for quotes, a friend put me in touch with her son who has just launched an on line business as well. He did computer programming for a few years, so I thought "Great!"

He actually recommended that I look at So that's the route we're going for now. Lower initial costs and the interface is much like a blog so uploading products or changing prices is pretty straight forward. The monthly overhead may actually be higher but at least we won't have all of our working capital tied up in paying for a store that never gets built, so we can try and keep on top of the new releases that everyone keeps coming out with!

Once we get more of our SKUs listed we'll open the doors for business and have some spiffy deals to try and clear some space in the dining room.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Fallschirmjaeger Supports

While playing the IABSM random scenarios I've noticed that the German Company HQ platoon is a pretty valuable asset for the Germans since it inevitably contains a lot of support weapons. I want to get my Fallschirmjaeger kompanie on the table more, but after looking at the table of organization in Battle for Liberation (the IABSM army list book) I realized that my FJ HQ platoon needed more. Lots more. Three 80mm mortars and three tank hunter teams in fact. Inspired by the German infantry tank hunters in my previous post I ordered some bits from Peter Pig to finish off the FJ HQ. Martin at Peter Pig gave great service and made sure I had the required number of panzerschreks for my unit.

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Panzerschreks with more oink!

Each tank hunter team is on a small FoW base. The assistant is actually carrying some mid-war AT bundle grenades, but with a squint he could just as easily have some rockets.

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I also did this Battlefront command vignette, just because I have several of these radio teams and it seems a shame to waste them.

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Close up of mortar
I also got two packs of Peter Pig 80mm FJ mortars. I only need three tubes for the HQ but I painted up all four anyway. The Piggie mortars are well detailed, one piece castings. I like the ease of assembly and just painting black between the bipod legs you don't notice the solidity.

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Complete FJ Kompanie HQ platoon
I also added some other support options. I got two spare Old Glory 75mm infantry guns from a friend and added spare Battlefront gun crews (I have an astounding number of those 28mm squeeze bore AT guns that apparently never got really used, I think they might put one in each platoon blister pack).

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I also ordered a pair of Peter Pig's 150mm recoilless guns. A rarity but a nifty piece anyway. I actually swapped some of the crew between the mortars and the guns, since I felt that kneeling crew would be more appropriate to a direct fire weapon exposed to potential small arms fire.

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Peter Pig 150mm recoilless support guns.
This gives me some options for different weapons on the table, and since my 75mm antitank gun platoon only has one gun, they could just reinforce that. These are nice little models and easy to assemble.

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I also painted up four more Big Men to command the support gun section and in case the paras roll successfully for additional BMs for each platoon.

Repeating the idea from my German Grenadier Kompanie, I also got 10 of the Peter Pig tank hunters with panzerfausts and mounted them on washers to indicate if a section has panzerfausts with it or not.

This brings my Christmas Miracle Fallschirmjaeger force (click here for the earlier post with the complete story) up to a complete HQ with mortars and tank hunters, two rifle platoons, a MMG platoon, Pak40 75mm AT gun, a choice of 2 different infantry support gun platoons, 10 Big Men and markers for panzerfausts.

Only one rifle platoon to go!

They'll be ready to attack the RHLIs at Woensdrecht soon.