Sunday, January 15, 2017

3-2-1 in 1, 2, 3: Basing for The Pikeman's Lament

When word came to me that Bill Stewart was undertaking a massive rebasing project for his single-mounted Napoleonic, Colonial, and English Civil War figures, I recalled the lines from Yeats' The Second Coming,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned. 
For more than 20 years, the one immutable constant in an ever-changing world was the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ of 20mm by 25mm (that's ¾ inch by 1 inch to the metrically challenged). Something momentous must have happened, something ominous,
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
Indeed, the release (or imminent release) of Osprey's latest batch of skirmish rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings, Chosen Men, and The Pikeman's Lament, shifted the universe, caused a tremor in The Force, and compelled Bill to undertake the most odious task imaginable: rebasing figures—lots of 'em. Had this been one of his twelve labors, even Heracles would blanch.

So I was intrigued.

Michael Leck, co-author of The Pikeman's Lament, featured a unique basing scheme on his blog Dalauppror. This was visible in posts going back a while, but recently he laid out the dimensions he used.

The basic scheme is to mount figures on round bases in clumps of 3 or 2 with single figures as "spare change" to accommodate casualty removal. Since units in The Pikeman's Lament are 12 or 6 figures, a 6-figure unit (horse, dragoons, forlorn hope, commanded shot) would have clumps of 3-2-1; a 12-figure unit (pikemen, shot, clansmen) would have clumps of 3-3-2-2-1-1. Michael's recommended base sizes for foot are,
  • 1 figure: 25mm round
  • 2 figures: 30mm round
  • 3 figures: 40mm round
For mounted figures,
  • 1 figure: 40mm round
  • 2 figures: 50mm round
  • 3 figures: 60mm round
Michael uses perfectly round bases (as Bill is doing), which posed a dilemma for me. I liked the idea, but I was loath to go out and buy buckets of round Litko bases and magnetic bottoms in six sizes. I can (and did) buy a whole slug of minis for less than all that basing would cost. Also, even though I've purchased a lot of Litko bases, most of which sit unused in boxes, more recently I've gone back to plastic sheet for my Lion Rampant, Quetzalcoatl Rampant, and Bolt Action figures.

Ken Kissling, one of my fellow Kampfgruppe Commander gamers, taught me the trick of making bases using "sidewalk" plastic sheet that you can get at most hobby or model railroad stores (until those stores cease to exist). The "sidewalk" plastic comes with various square sizes; I use the ⅛ inch squares because it's more versatile in creating different size bases.

I just score along one of the lines and snap to get the base sizes I want. This works exceedingly well for making square/rectangular bases. For round bases, I bought a punch set that goes up to 30mm diameter. I made round bases that way for my Bolt Action officers/NCOs so they'd stand out from the rectangular bases of the standard figures. But there's no way to punch out anything bigger.

Then inspiration struck!

Years (and years) ago, my first joint project with other NHMGS people was gaming the AWI battle of Guilford Courthouse using Andy Callan's Loose Files and American Scramble rules (which he'd published in Wargames Illustrated). Our basing for that was also irregular clumps of 4-5 figures on irregularly cut bases. I figured that although I couldn't punch or cut perfect circles in plastic, I could cut crude, irregular circles—which suddenly struck me as preferable to perfectly round bases anyway.

My ECW figures are Renegade and Bicorne. These are BIG figures. Michael's recommended sizes wouldn't work, but he did mention in his blog that you could tweak up the diameters as needed to accommodate the figures. So for the foot, I went with,
  • 1 figure: 30mm round (or 1 ¼ inches)
  • 2 figures: 40mm round (or 1 ⅝ inched)
  • 3 figures: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
For horse, I plan to go with,
  • 1 figure: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
  • 2 figures: 60mm round (or 2 ⅜ inches)
  • 3 figures: 70mm round (or 2 ⅞ inches)
To get these sizes from the "sidewalk" plastic sheet, I started by cutting squares, then cutting the squares into octagons (it's easy to score along the diagonal—and I don't need to be precise). I apply these to the sticky side of a Litko magnetic sheet, then trim them out.

I then go along trimming the octagon into a hexadecagon, then an icosidodecagon, etc. (it's kind of like applying "flatness" to a Bézier curve in a Postscript.)

As I rough-cut the circle, I start to add nicks 'n' such to make the perimeter even rougher.

Finally, I use medium-fine grit sandpaper to complete blunting any pointy spots. The idea is to better blend the figure base into the surface of the game table by making the demarcation fuzzier. 3mm thick Litko bases have an admirable heft, but they do stick out.

So far, I've rebased every ECW figure that I'd finished and based, which wasn't many. There's a kind of serendipity to being dilatory: rebasing is a snap if you didn't base in the first place.

I'm kind of excited. I have lots of figures to work on, though so far I'm just basing/rebasing figures for The Pikeman's Lament. I'm keeping my Lion Rampant and Quetzalcoatl Rampant figures on the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ (actually, I've gone with ⅞ inch by 1 ⅛ inch). There's just too much work to do rebasing 'em all. However, for ECW it feels like the project has met the moment. It's languished for some time and now I have the enthusiasm to get cracking, especially since the rules are coming soon.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Comrades in Arms

I ordered some figures Friday morning. It was kind of impulsive and it was an impulse driven by an impulse. I contacted Alan Rudd of Timeline Miniatures (formerly Hoka Hey Wargaming) about the 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids I love because he's picked up some parts of the old Monolith Designs/Graven Images ranges and I had an impulse to get more (which is difficult to do right now). I asked whether he would be carrying the Prehistoric Europe range and he sent an encouraging reply (fingers crossed). But that got me thinking about the excellent Border Reivers range they carry, which were also Jim Bowen sculpts. I'd been eyeing this range for some time. With the imminent release of The Pikeman's Lament from Dan Mersey/Osprey, I thought now might be the time to bite and get some of the 16th c. Irish from that range. So I did.

But then I felt a gnawing emptiness (not just in my wallet) because this was the point in my purchase that I would email Phil Bardsley, confess what I'd done, and receive absolution. Since the dawn of the Internet Age and email, Phil, Bill Stewart, Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, and I (and various others) have exchanged emails about our projects and enthusiasms. At some point in the mid-90s, every Sunday morning became a virtual chat session as we sat at our computers drinking coffee and firing digital bon mots at each other, discussing figure ranges, and planning games. They were fun times, and we who were in the vanguard of graying the hobby were tickled that we could still learn these new-fangled interwebs tricks that set the distance between us at nought.

This underscores one of the feelings that I've always had about this hobby: It's not so much the figures, the rules, the painting, the games—it's the people that make the hobby worth pursuing. As the people start to go, something of the hobby goes with them. I find myself reevaluating the projects that Phil was part of because they seem to have lost their charm with his death. Much of our Bolt Action activity in the last years was driven by Phil's desire to paint and play 28mm WW2. Our games will be different without him and I'm not sure if I'd rather sell off my Bolt Action figures/models and use the money to fund other projects. Dick Larsen has also been a huge part of those games. Dick suffered a minor stroke the same day Phil died and is recovering in hospital and, later, rehab. It will be a while before Dick is back in action.

Phil and I planned many projects together, mostly abortive. I still have some of the Langton 1/600th scale Napoleonic warships he and I bought 15+ years ago. That went nowhere quickly, but it was fun to plan, buy, discuss possible rules. It wasn't so much the project as the pleasure of planning it with a friend. In the last year, we'd been talking about expanding Bolt Action to do the Syria-Lebanon Campaign of 1941. Phil bought some of the Perry 28mm Free French and he was talking me into buying the Vichy that Perry makes. It would have been glorious.

Kevin Smyth and I have 25 years of schemings and collusions. We'll have widely roaming phone conversations that come to some incoherent plan of action that may or may not be disastrous—but always fun.

And we've had a lot of collusions over the years. We've played and hosted many an ACW naval game together in two different scales and using a number of different rules (though like a dog to its vomit we always return to our adaptation of Yaquinto's Ironclads board game). Several times we put on our 15mm Tarawa game using Arty Conliffe's Crossfire rules. One year at our Enfilade! convention we joined forces with Dave Schueler and converted the Advanced Tobruk board game rules to 15mm miniatures and hosted a game of the battle of Mechili (1940). We've run many Silent Death games, played various rules adaptations for the Hundred Years War, and even gave WRG 6th edition Ancients a last hurrah together. Our latest collaboration is our Aztecs and Conquistadors project using our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant of the Lion Rampant skirmish rules. Kevin and I also coauthored our (I think now defunct?) newsletter, The Citadel, while Bill did production and licked the stamps to mail them out. New collaborations await—even though Kevin has too much integrity to get cajoled into anything that has to do with pikes.

Being pulled into other's mischief is a central delight of having friends in the hobby. Left to my own devices, I have no idea what I'd get up to, but the most enjoyable projects I've done have been the result of discovering a synchronicity of thought with co-conspirators that blossoms into some action, possibly painted figures/models, and—miraculously—an actual game or two.

I met most of the guys I regularly game with when I first came to Seattle in 1991. I showed up at a quarterly meeting in August at the US Coast Guard Bear Room on the Seattle pier. I immediately got into an ACW game run by Kevin and later found myself collaborating on a group project with Kevin, Phil, Bill, Dick Larsen, and others that would be a refight of the 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Phil was a descendant of Nathaniel Greene, so he was a big factor in picking that battle to game). I had already been painting 28mm AWI back in Chicago. As luck would have it they were doing the same out here. It was serendipity (or kismet).

That group has remained my core group ever since, though I've branched out into other games that pull in other players like John Kennedy, Steve "Puff" Puffenberg, Ken Kissling, Chris Craft, Mark Serafin, etc. With that lot, I've done 15mm WW2 (the Kampfgruppe Comander days), 1/300th modern, 1/2400th WW2 naval, among other things.

With Phil gone, some projects may fade away, but many others will never be born. It seems a long, long time since we worked on our first project together, but also as if it were yesterday. It's these somewhat maudlin (for which I apologize) reminiscences that make me appreciate anew the friends I've made in this strange little hobby.

Thank you, Phil, for all the years of friendship and fun. Thank you, my comrades in (wee) arms for the same and for all the times to come.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A dirge without music

I just feel tired.

Phil Bardsley, my friend of 25 years, passed away in the early hours of January 3. He'd been ill, but this was unexpected.

His wife Karen texted me on the preceding Thursday that he was in the hospital because he had trouble breathing. This wasn't the first time he had to spend a few days in the hospital and by now it seemed routine.

He'd been in and out of poor health for the last decade. In 2005, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He spent two years on dialysis (administered at home by Karen). He went through a viral infection that destroyed several vertebrae in his spine and required a titanium cage to be built and fused with the good vertebrae using bone taken from his leg. In 2008 a coworker donated a kidney for a transplant, which freed him from the hated routine of dialysis. The anti-rejection drugs kept his immune system low and he was often prey to viruses that would never affect most of us more than causing a slight sniffle. For him, they could be life threatening.

Lately it all seemed to be taking an increasing toll on his well-being and he'd carried along an oxygen tank with him for the last two years. Once robust, his stamina had gotten so low that he could only walk short distances and stairs were out of the question.

When he went into the hospital last week, Karen kept me up to date, as she often did. I expected to be able to visit him, but his condition was such that he needed rest and could barely talk without getting severely out of breath. They expected to move him to a rehab unit on Tuesday where he would be more amenable to visitors, but I found a text from Karen waiting for me Tuesday morning telling me that Phil died during the night. The hospital called her around 3:00 AM to say that he was failing fast and by the time she got there he had died.

I was just over at his house on December 23rd oohing and ahhing at his new 75-inch flat-screen TV while we ate pizza and watched Guardians of the Galaxy. It's surreal to think that suddenly he's not here anymore.

Phil had a lot of interests and appetites. There was an epicurean richness to his lifestyle. For a while, Scotch and cigars were all the rage. He'd host gatherings at his house and three of four of us would fog up his back room while we drank and smoked and watched war movies on his big-screen TV. We used to go on expeditions to cigar stores around the area looking for much-coveted Fuentes Opus X cigars. When we found them, we'd sit in the cigar bar smoking and drinking some premium brew. We also accessorized our habit with fancy torches, cutters, and humidors.

He loved to barbecue and was a master of the grill. Steak 'n' shrimp, ribs, salmon, brisket—he loved trying new things and religiously watched the cooking shows for new ideas. For a while he mastered the art of crème brûlée. He loved bringing out his torch and caramelizing the sugar to create the perfect hard shell atop a wondrously smooth vanilla-bean custard.

Around 2004 or so, he pulled me into his enthusiasm for premium sodas. We made several excursions to the Fremont district in Seattle to visit Real Soda, a vendor who supplied a lot of classic and hard-to-find premium sodas (like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup). I'm fatter today because of all that soda. Sugar exacts its price.

We loved to eat and shoot. We regularly went out on what I called shoot some/dim sum expeditions: dim sum brunch at Noble Court in Redmond followed by a few hours on the range at Wade's Eastside Guns. Karen joined us on several occasions packing her pink lady's gun. Phil loved his pistols. He had a beautiful Kimber Eclipse Pro II with custom-made ivory grips engraved with his family crest. He was also fond of shaking the neighboring shooter's bays by firing his .357 Magnum. Later on, he got a Taurus Judge and we had a blast shooting .410 shotgun shells from it. We would also go out to WAC gun shows in Monroe and Puyallup until the exertion of wandering a large exhibition hall got to be too much for him. I don't recall our last outing at the range. Phil and Karen went a few times somewhat recently, which I declined. I wish now I'd made the time to join them.

For a while in the 90s and early 2000s we were into photography. He and I both had Olympus 35mm SLRs and we traded tips and tools for taking the best pics of our painted miniatures. The results were sometimes good and sometimes too much (and sometimes pretty lousy). I recall a very, very macro shot of a 1/6000th scale Nimitz class carrier that looked stunning to the naked eye, but subjected to intense magnification looked like a cake someone had left out in the rain. We lost our enthusiasm for macro and focused more on lighting and increasing depth of field. My fumbling photography skills don't do his figures justice.

Louisiana Tigers - one of Phil's best efforts
Phil was an expert painter, which made his figures such noble subjects for photography. Stubbornly old school, he was one of the few (or only) gamers in NHMGS who used enamels to paint his figures. The results were legendary. Before he started miniature gaming, Phil was painting 54mm figures for display. He applied the painstaking methods of painting larger single figures to painting miniature armies. I'd often see works in progress and wonder how he had the patience to do that. Even then, I picked up a lot of tips from Phil and grew to be a better painter by his example. I always think "Bardsley scrub" when I use the technique of scrubbing a lightened version of a color over the solid hue to get a less starkly chromatic version. Phil used it mostly on his excellent 1/300th scale aircraft, preferring to use more traditional highlighting and shading on his 28mm figures.

1/300th Navy Phantoms in Vietnam
1/300th Emily flying boat - masterpiece of the Bardsley scrub
Show and tell was always a feature of social gatherings. I'd often come to dinner at his house with a box or two of painted figures in tow. We'd sit out on his patio on a summer afternoon sipping mint juleps (amply supplied by Karen) and talk shop. He loved seeing what other people were painting and had a keen appreciation for others' skills. He stopped competing in our Enfiade! painting contests after he won too many times running, but he always liked to peruse the contest entries.

Bonaparte at Borodino diorama set
We often traveled about the Seattle-Tacoma area browsing hobby shops and bookstores. Hobby shops were especially interesting if they carried Wargames Foundry figures, which were generally only available by mail order to the UK, but available (for a short while) at a couple stores. Phil loved to paint the best figures available. Comstock's Books in Auburn was a favorite haunt. We'd go and browse David Comstock's special reserve in the back room for the hard-to-find volumes on planes, tanks, etc.

I bought my 350z in 2007 and next year Phil traded in his lumbering SUV for a nifty BMW Z4. Cars were briefly a shared enthusiasm and Phil discovered Griot's Garage in Tacoma which prompted a few trips to stock up on top-shelf car cleaning products. (For a while, Phil was buffing the Z4 every month to keep up the shine.) It was fun to alternate our road trips between my Z and his Z4. On on rare sunny days in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pleasure to roar down I-5 with the top down.

Phil was there when my car failed me. One Christmas Day we had a deep, lasting snow that shut down the roads to most traffic. My beautiful but inefficient 350z couldn't even get me out of the driveway in ice and snow. I was stuck and unable to travel to be with my family. Phil drove up over  the unplowed roads in Karen's car to bring me back to their place for Christmas dinner. A kindness I've always remembered.

Wargaming, the hobby through which we met, featured in a lot of social interactions. For some time Phil and Paul Hannah put on regular air games using 1/300th scale airplanes. Phil and Paul painted models that were the envy of us all.  Phil's mass of B-24 bombers that he painted for their Ploesti game was awe-inspiring. Lately, we played a lot of Bolt Action WW2 skirmish games, which Phil was fond of. We would get together with Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen and a few others who showed up from time to time and spend an early afternoon at the Panzer Depot. Phil's 28mm Afrika Korps were magnificent. He and I had started 28mm North Africa around 2001 or 2002. The project went into a long haitus with us both having half-painted forces boxed away somewhere, but it came back strong when Warlord Games released their rules. Phil also painted some American tanks for the Pacific War. Just a few weeks ago he was urging me to set up a Bolt Action game of Marines versus Japanese sometime in the new year.

Phil makes a point, while Paul looks dubious
Phil had a knack for finding cool stuff, which often started abortive (or just slowly gestating) projects. Phil got into 40mm AWI, ACW, and Napoleonic after discovering the excellent lines from Sash and Saber, Front Rank, and Perry. He also found the Smooth & Rifled skirmish rules online, which started a few projects going. He and I played a game with them once and later got Bill involved in another, both using 40mm ACW figures. That got me started painting some 40mm ACW myself, but started is as far as I got (there are still a few barely started on my painting table). It did inspire me to paint my 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids, which have featured in a few games with Phil.

But games over the last years became fewer and farther between. We'd plan a game, but Phil's health kept us from playing. He made a lot of effort to play because he enjoyed the camaraderie and banter. With Phil and Bill in a game, the banter was mercilessly droll. We all share the desire to roll our dice solely among good friends whenever possible and we were never disappointed by our games.

Phil loved his dogs. Our friendship has spanned three generations of Shelties: The Tipper and Jake years, the Simon and Sadie years, and the current Bo, Cooper, and Laddie (a.k.a. Mr. Science) years. Every visit to Chez Bardsley required running the gauntlet of excited barking dogs just to get in the door. They hung around Phil, who was always the alpha in the house, but always extended a welcome to me. I don't know what they'll do now without him. We fear our losing our pets, but not often that our pets will lose us.

I miss him deeply already. If he were still alive, I might go weeks without talking to him, texting him, hanging out with him, but when we got together again, it would seem as if we'd only just parted the day before. Now I know that we won't meet again and I lament all the good times that might have come and regret the many passed opportunities now gone forever.

Rest in peace, Phil. You were a prince among men, a generous and gracious host, and loyal friend. You are missed by all who knew you.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sunday, January 1, 2017

All Our Yesterdays

2016 is over and the new year is upon us. I feel like I've aged more than 12 months since this time last year, but that may be the chili I had for lunch.  My thoughts and reflections on this past year:

La vie (et la mort) avec des chats

The biggest change in my life in 2016 was the loss of my beloved cat Grendel in September. The sharp pain of those six terrible weeks between his diagnosis with cancer and his death has given way to a dull ache that lingers and may well linger indefinitely. I can't help thinking about that line from the song Mr. Bojangles, "after twenty years he still grieves." Does time heal all wounds? Maybe not in this life. I had such a special relationship with that fat, obstreperous little man that the absence, the nullity of him is palpable.

I think that our relationship with our pets restores, to some degree, the natural order of creation. We were meant to be in harmony with our environment, not at war. That we can create such a bond with our critters now is some foretaste of the restoration to come:
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he shall dwell with them,
And they shall be his peoples,
And God himself shall be with them—their God.
And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more;
nor mourning nor crying nor pain—they shall be no more.
The first things have passed away.

And he who sits upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

(Rev 21:3-5)
The girls go on. Maebh is still crazy; Rhiannon is still fussy; both are still adorable. Rhiannon is soon to be 16 and Maebh is going on 13, two little old ladies. They're a bit like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I expect Maebh to push Rhiannon down the stairs any day.

The new cat, Bogart, is a much-loved (by me) addition to the home, even though his full admission to the tribe has hit many a snag. I was too sanguine that he would fit in quickly. There were a few problems at first, Maebh wouldn't stop hissing and growling at him, but there were also signs that things might settle down. That optimism pretty much went south after Bogart chased Maebh through the house while she shrieked and yowled. She came out just a bit ruffled, he suffered a nasty bite on his left foreleg that required a second trip to the vet for cleaning and dressing. (He had an abscess on his shoulder from another Maebh bite just a month earlier.) I keep fearing for the girls in these encounters, but it's always Bogart going to the vet.

For now I'm keeping the girls and Bogart separate. My den, which I envisioned as a temporary quarantine, is now Bogie's semi-permanent home. I manage a kind of time-share where I lock the girls in my bedroom and let Bogart have the run of the house and then put him back in the den and let the girls roam free. It's not ideal. He spends by far the most time in his room, though I do a lot of stuff in there, like my painting and 'putering, so I manage to spend time with him wherever he is.

I have to admit, however, that I'm a bit perplexed how to resolve settling him in. He's too enthusiastic about wanting to be with his "girlfriends" who want nothing to do with him. He presses, they run, he chases, hijinx ensue—along with cat-bites and puss-oozing abscesses.


Having perfected the art of the dip, I started out last year with many a high hope for painting projects. I managed to get a lot done earlier in the year and was set up to get a lot more done when Grendel's death and Bogie's arrival took a lot of the wind out of that sail. The current irons in the fire, in no particular order, are:
  • Aztecas y conquistadores: This is the Queztalcoatl Rampant project Kevin Smyth and I have been working on. I have a surprising number of figures painted for it, though unsurprisingly many fewer than Kevin has. I'm nearly done with my conquistadors, but I have a lot of Tlaxcalans and then Aztecs to paint. I just ordered a few more conquistadors and a lot more Tlaxcalans. The Mesoamericanos paint pretty quickly, even the more elaborate ones have a simple color scheme. I ordered several more Tlaxcalans from The Assault Group. I'd meant to order more Aztec slingers, too, but forgot. However, just yesterday, Jerry Tyer handed me a bag of 24 Assualt Group Aztecs he's had sitting around for years, including eight slingers. Joy! More material possessions!
  • Lion Rampant: Earlier in the year I got excited about painting a 28mm Medieval Spanish army for Lion Rampant. I was going to debut it at a small Lion Rampant tournament that was held in Gig Harbor, WA in September. I managed to get a lot done, but then the project stalled with Grendel's sickness and death. I'm just now getting back to them. I also have a large number of later Medieval figures from Old Glory's Hundred Years War range. These have been kicking around half painted for well over 10 years. I hope to squeeze out a few Lion Rampant retinues from these.
  • Beyond the Gates of Antares: This project is a going concern and yielding its fruit in season. I recently completed some long-stalled additions, which include my first vehicles and a heavy weapon with extra crew. I'm well along with some more recent additions. This is something we play regularly, so I expect to get a lot of mileage out of what I have and add to it as new releases come. All my figures are Algoryns and I'm tempted to branch out. We'll see.
  • 30 Years War: After my initial output at the beginning of the year, I started many more (and ordered many more) figures. Things paint faster with the dip, but like Thursday's child, I have far to go. We're planning a game of Pike & Shotte for Drumbeat in February, but I'm not confident I'll have any units completed by then.
  • 1672: This project is still prominently on the back burner. I'm excited by the possibility. The uniforms (and they are uniform, unlike the motley of everything else I'm currently painting) are simple and the quick block painting used in the dip may result in several units painted quickly, whenever I get back to them.
  • English Civil War: I have a lot of pikes and muskets going on. I've been working on some of the beautiful—and big—ECW figures from Renegade (who have now resumed binness) and Bicorne. My plans are to use these for the soon to be released Pikeman's Lament rules from Dan Mersey/Osprey. I have some English and Scots in the works. These are also mostly uniform, so painting should go quicker than with the 30 Years War, etc.
  • WW2: This is pretty dormant right now, but I have several Italian troops for North Africa to paint to complete a platoon-sized unit, plus a few Italian tanks. I also have some British tanks for North Africa to complete. I have a lot of Crusader Russians that I picked up cheap at Enfilade! a few years ago. I keep meaning to get to them. So far, I have no Germans. I expect to remedy that at some future date. What keeps me from getting more done is that we're not playing Bolt Action much.
I'm reduced to painting in my wee den closet. In the past, and just before Grendel died, I took over more open spaces like my dining table or desk to work on my wee figures. My first generation cats know enough not to tromp through my painting mess. Bogart has no intention of keeping that tradition. The cramped space I'm left with limits the amount of things I can do, though cleaning and priming is a movable feast: Have file, will travel.

Politics  (God help us all)

The point of politics is to upset people, or so it seems. I try to avoid the topic, but it dominated so much of 2016 that I feel the need to make a few upsetting comments.

I'm no fan of The Donald, but I have to admit to feeling ecstatic when Hillary lost. If schadenfreude is a mortal sin, I am doomed to hell-fire. (However, cf. Aquinas Summa Theologicae Supplement 94.3 "I answer that...the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy.") And the schadenfreude only got worse as the post-election days ticked by and Team Hillary kept melting down publicly in increasingly hilarious ways.

Then there were the pathetic attempts to overturn the election.

Jill Stein acted as Hillary's stalking horse to demand recounts in the three key states that turned the election (because, you know, it would be unseemly for Hillary to demand recounts after all the time she spent hectoring Trump about whether he'd accept the election outcome). Judges shut down the recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Trump actually gained votes in Wisconsin. Oops. But it gets better.

Other stalking horses fulsomely encouraged (or violently threatened) Trump electors to vote faithlessly. They even tried to get Hillary electors to be faithless in order to pave the way for faithless Trump electors. In the end, Trump lost two electors in Texas, one to Ron Paul and another to John Kasich. Hillary, however, lost five—four of them from my home state of Washington. Three of those four faithless Washington electors voted for Colin Powell, who didn't run, but took third place anyway. One Hillary elector from Hawaii voted for Bernie, so at least he got a bit of his own back after having the nomination stolen from him. Three other Hillary electors tried to defect but were either forced to recant or had their faithless votes invalidated and recast by a faithful alternate. The end result of trying to use the electoral college to overturn the election was even more schadenfreude inducing than the botched recount: Trump 304, Hillary 227 (or 224, if we go by intentions).

Of course, the outraged cry has gone 'round the land (yet again) to abolish the electoral college, which would require a constitutional amendment unless the Democrats can find a judge who will rule the Constitution unconstitutional (don't laugh, that's not at all improbable). Of course, the urge of the outraged to abolish Article II is more urgent in light of the fact that Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 3 million. But the electoral college was designed specifically to give every state a say in presidential elections proportional to their representation in Congress, and no more, so as to disallow a few very populous regions to dominate the whole country. Hillary won California (my former, and formerly deep-red, home state) by 6 million votes. There are a lot of people in California. But even if Hillary won the vote of every single Californian, she only gets 55 electoral votes, the same number she'd get if she won California by only a single vote. California may really, really love Hillary, but it doesn't get to decide presidential elections on its own. That's especially meaningful since states have a lot of leeway in deciding how their elections are held. California has effectively banned the Republican party (much like Mississippi, South Carolina, et al. in 1860). The election for US senator from California was between one Democrat and another Democrat. Some Californians are agitating for secession. Well, adios. It means that 55 electoral votes and all those popular votes won't go to Democrats in US elections any more. California is one of the wealthiest states in the US, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that as a separate country, the People's Republic of California would give Venezuela a run for its money on the misery index. But I digress...

The ramifications of 2016 will go on and on. I don't know what to expect from a Trump presidency, though it will certainly be less dire than the Democrats are shrieking (most things are) and less glorious than the Trumpkins promise. My overall feeling for the state of things would be pessimistic whether Hillary or The Donald won, but that's grist for another mill. For now, I'll deal with what has come, i.e., our absurd orange overlord and the musical caterwauling of the left at everything he says and does.

The Democrats, who spent the eight years of the Bush administration being obstructionists and the eight years of the Obama administration decrying the evil of obstructionism, will return again to being obstructionists and declare it good. Republicans will, of course, bemoan the Democrats' obstruction (though, to be fair, many despise Trump enough that they might become co-obstructionists thus creating a new bipartisanship). Trump will try to rule by fiat (i.e., executive orders) as Obama did, only to be denounced as a tyrant, as Obama was. It seems that we've gone from government of the people, by the people, for the people to government by tit for tat.

There won't be enough nails to shut Hillary's political coffin. Without serious intervention from friends (assuming she has any who aren't sycophants) she'll undoubtedly try to run again in 2020. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Hillary's not dead yet—and even then, there's enough toxic ambition in her system to animate her corpse until the smell becomes unbearable (worse even than boiled cabbage, urine, and farts). The sad reality at this point is that there isn't anyone on the Democratic bench that has the stature (or lacks the baggage) to make a serious run in 2020. If they don't run Hillary again, even though she's well past her sell-by date and loaded with baggage, who will they run? Maybe a retread of a different sort...

Obama, having now declared himself the winner of a (delusional) third term, may spend his time out of office orchestrating a repeal of the 22 Amendment (or finding a judge who will declare the Constitution unconstitutional), which would let him run again. He's young enough to still be around if or when a repeal happens and he certainly has the ambition and narcissistic self-regard to imagine himself yet again his country's new (or renewed) hope: Messiah 2.0, rested and ready to save our souls once again.

Whatever happens, 2017 and beyond promises to be an interesting mélange of political hurly-burly, angst, and, yes, schadenfreude—and squalor, lots of squalor. It should be entertaining. I can hardly wait.

Danse Macabre

Apparently everybody who was anybody died in 2016. The Grim Reaper's harvest of exceptional souls seemed especially rich this past year. The quite unexpected back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were the most poignant. Requiescat in pacem.

Celebrity deaths hold a fascination for us. Maybe it's because they're celebrities or maybe it's because death is that one leveler that puts the uncommon and the common on par. Some seemed to have lived wonderful lives, but others seemed to have lived a horror of addiction, mental illness, dysfunction, etc., much of which was unknown—or only vaguely known—while they lived. In reviewing the lives of the rich and famous, we gain a whole new appreciation for the simplicity and obscurity of our own (at least I do).
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," wrote St. Paul. But we do so poorly with freedom, squandering it mostly on ambition, the pursuit of wealth, and the satisfaction of our base desires. Every year's crop of celebrity dead brings home that truth and underscores the fragility of our lives and the transitoriness of all our achievements great and humble. And so, in saying goodbye to 2016 and greeting 2017, it's only appropriate to end with this timeless quote from the Bard:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Mayhem in the maize

On December 17 Kevin Smyth and I ran another test play of our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant of Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant skirmish rules. We'd played a game with the other two Daves at Meeples Games in West Seattle in August. Kevin also ran a game at the NHMGS game day at the Boeing Museum of Flight in November. For that game he revised some of the values for the troop types to give the Aztecs a bit more of a fighting chance. In both games the Spanish never even broke a sweat while beating Montezuma's minions like rented mules. After the second game, he revised things further. (I've updated the values in my Quetzalcoatl Rampant blog post.)

Saturday's game was still a bit of a walkover for los Españoles, but that may have been due to my extraordinary dicing--a talent I notably lack in most of my gaming adventures.

Kevin and Bailey played the Aztec horde and I played the Spanish. We each had 30 point retinues. I had one unit of caballeros, two units of rodeleros, one unit of arquebusiers, one unit of war-dogs, one Tlaxcalan skirmisher, and one unit of basic Tlaxcalan warriors. (We're toying with some kind of point limit for Spanish units in "Spanish" retinues to make them use more allies.)

The Spanish deployed, caballeros in reserve
Kevin and Bailey's force, as far as I recall, was maybe four skirmisher units, two basic warrior units, two veteran warrior units, and a unit of fearsome eagle knights.

The terrain was a couple houses, some wooded bits, and some maize fields. The terrain worked against the Aztecs because it let the numerically inferior Spanish dominate in the tight spots between blocking or hindering terrain and kept them from being enveloped by the Aztec horde.

I started out cagey. The Aztec warriors are better in attack than in defense (and the Spanish are correspondingly worse at defense than attack). I wanted to be the one attacking, so I hung back with my rodeleros out of 6" range of his troops waiting for him to move within my charge range. I held back the caballeros as a reserve strike force. I used my arquebusiers and Tlaxcalan skirmishers to good effect. I forced one of Bailey's skirmisher units to run (and keep running) on my first shot. The Aztecs didn't really have much luck with their courage rolls, nor with their own shooting.

Improved fearsome boomsticks of war
In our various combats, I managed to roll 11 hits against units a couple times. Maybe that's not too surprising when I'm hitting on 3+, but it has devastating effect on units with "2" armor. Coupled with poor courage rolls, the Mexica were soon in a world of hurt. The vaunted eagle knights rolled so low on their courage test that they clean buggered off the field.

Successive waves of Aztec nastiness
My war dogs were successful, but they'd lost half their number by game's end. I lost two caballeros and, I think, three rodeleros, and a couple Tlaxcalan skirmishers My arquebusiers and the Tlaxcalan warriors were untouched. (The Tlaxcalan warriors never got engaged, actually.)

My initial thoughts for this variant, as I mentioned in the original Quetzalcoatl Rampant post, were that Aztec numbers would offset Spanish quality. However, the disparity is still too significant, I think. I've been pondering some more things that might boost Aztec performance. In brief, these are:
  • Give the Aztecs (and Tlaxcalans) an 8" movement rate. This change would put the Aztecs in better position to charge the Spanish and get the benefit of their Attack combat value (and reduce the Spanish to their Defense combat value). For example, warrior knights or veteran warriors versus rodeleros would be 4+ Attack vs. 4+ Defend. The sole Spanish advantage is a "3" armor compared to the Aztec "2" armor. Things could get a bit more dangerous for the Conquistadors--especially since the Spanish units are 6 figures and the Aztecs are 12. This change might also prompt the Spanish rodeleros to use their Close Order rule and increase their protection to a "4" armor.
  • Give the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans a 12" range if they take the Atl-Atl option. The option costs 1 point, but is pretty useless with a 6" range. In fact, it's unusable since Aztec warrior knights and veteran warriors have the Wild Charge rule. If they're within 6" they can't shoot, they must attempt to attack.
Our next scheduled game is the Drumbeat game day in Seattle on February 4, but I think I'd like to sneak another game in before then to give these new ideas a try. Our ultimate plan is to run a few big games of this at Enfilade! in May. Until then, I have a lot of painting to do...

Sturm und D.(r)A.N.G.

We met at Dave Schueler's house in West Seattle on Boxing Day for Dave's Annual Naval Game (D.A.N.G.) XV. A few of our stalwarts were absent, but we had a good number on hand, including a cameo performance by Paul Hannah, esq. The game this year was a hypothetical crisis in the Caribbean ca. 1903 where Der Huns are trying to bully a port away from Venezuela on the pretext of unpaid debts. Teddy Roosevelt sends in a few naval units to brandish the Big Stick and warn off the sausage-eaters. What could go wrong?

Dave Creager, Arthur Brooking, and I were the Americans. Dale Mickel, Scott Murphy, and Chuck/Charlie X, were the Germans. At the beginning of the mini-campaign, the Germans had already bombarded some Venezuelan ports and had naval units in Puerto Cabello. The Americans were all up at Culebra in the Virgin Islands. The Germans also had naval units in Port of Spain. The victory conditions were simple and exclusive: The Germans had to gain their coveted port in Venezuela and the Americans had to make sure they didn't.

In the end, the Germans' Drang nach einem Hafen turned into a Sturm auf Zee.

Each side had options they could take. For the Americans, our at-start units were a collection of protected cruisers and gunboats. The Germans had some roughly equivalent ships but also three armored cruisers that outclassed anything we had. Since we had the option to take three battleships (Indiana, Massachusetts, and Texas), we did. What's a naval game without 13" guns? The Germans also had the option to add two battleships to their force, but they would be coming from far off and wouldn't be available until day 6 of the mini-campaign. Being impatient Teutonic types, they decided to go with what they had and forego waiting for the big boys. That was perhaps a mistake.

By day 2 of the mini-campaign, we had one squadron at Puerto Cabello only to find that the few German ships that were there at the start had been reinforced with the rest of the German ships from Port of Spain. Our other squadron, containing the battleships, had made for Puerto de la Guaira to act as a blocking force against the Germans coming from Port of Spain, which, however, had already passed through before we got there.

With our squadron at Puerto Cabello outnumbered and outgunned, we stalled for time and sent a dispatch boat to Puerto de la Guaira to bring up the other squadron. Meanwhile, both the Americans and Germans were pressuring the Italian squadron in the Caribbean. The Germans wanted them to join their blockade of the Venezuelan ports and the Americans wanted them to stay out of it. In the end, the Italians let the Germans lead them by the nose into trouble not of their making.

By day 3, the American squadron was assembled. The Germans had one cruiser and a gunboat in the harbor landing troops. We negotiated to have the USS Atlanta (our slowest ship) go into the port and land some Marines to protect American interests. We later attempted to reinforce Atlanta with a gunboat (USS Concord), but that was turned back when the Germans sent another gunboat to block the channel.

At this point the Italians steamed into troubled waters. Our ultimatum to them was to turn about, which they did at first. Then a German cruiser came to escort them back. We fired a shot across their bows, which set the stage for the ensuing naval action of Puerto Cabello.

We used David Manley's rules Fire When Ready! to play the game. They're a nice, quick-moving set of rules for the pre-dreadnought era. Dave's ship models were all Panzershiffe 1:2400 scale.

Each side organized their forces into three squadrons:

American 1st squadron - 3 battleships, 4 protected cruisers
American 2nd squadron - 4 protected cruisers
American 3rd squadron - 3 gunboats

German 1st squadron - 3 armored cruisers
German 2nd squadron - 3 light cruisers
German 3rd squadron - 1 German light cruiser, 2 Italian light cruisers

Out of the main fight were the Atlanta and the German cruiser and two German gunboats who were baring their teeth at each other in the harbor.

The initiative system in Fire When Ready! has each squadron rolling a D6 and adding its squadron command rating to get a number that could run from 1 (worst) to 8 (best). On turn 1, we had universally poor initiative rolls, but that helped. The sequence of play has the best initiative squadron move last and fire first. Loath to fire the first shots, the Germans, who all had priority to fire before the Americans, passed on shooting. We, having already fired a shot across the Italians' bows, felt obliged to open fire on just the Italians when our turn to fire came. The results weren't spectacular. Only the 1st squadron (Arthur and me) had the range and the concentration of fire increasingly obscured subsequent salvoes. But this meant that things would start to happen.

Turn 2 was equally fortunate for us because we got the higher initiative for our squadrons. The German 2nd and 3rd squadrons aggressively moved in to close the range and get their torpedoes in action. We got to shoot first and walloped them. The USS Indiana blew up the lead ship (Gazelle) in the German 2nd squadron (Dale's) and badly mauled the second ship (Niobe) so that it was a burning wreck. 13" guns will do that to cruisers.

Arthur (running the 1st squadron's cruisers) kept up fire on the German 3rd squadron and continued to hurt the Italians. Dave Creager was engaging Chuck's armored cruisers at a disadvantage, though they seemed to be matching hit for hit--except Dave couold take fewer hits before disaster.

On turn 3, I split the battleships off from the 1st squadron and left Arthur to keep at the now badly hurt 3rd and 2nd German squadrons. I figured the battleships needed to get into action against the armored cruisers. Still in range of the other Germans, the battleships lent a hand as Arthur dispatched the Italians and put more hurt on Scott's remaining German cruiser. Dave Creager got a lucky hit against one of Chuck's armored cruisers (Fürst Bismarck), which left it in bad shape.

By turn 4, the Germans were buring or sinking all over the water. Chuck's other two armored cruisers were in good shape, but the American battleships were already in range and shooting, so there was no need to stay around. The Fürst Bismarck was only making three knots and wound up striking her colors. Dale's surviving cruiser and Chuck's two armored cruisers fled away.

In the harbor, the Germans made a failed torpedo attack on the Atlanta and shots were exchanged, but with the general carnage of the German ships outside the harbor, further German hostility was futile. The German forces in the port laid down arms and prepared to be escorted out.

Without the battleships, the Americans would have been doomed. Had the battleships and armored cruisers engaged right off, the battle might have been less lop-sided, but they were on opposite ends of the table. However, despite being damaged a bit, Dave's protected cruisers fought the armored cruisers to a standstill until the battleships arrived. Only Olympia was much damaged, but not critically (yet).

We speculated after the game that this naval disaster for the Germans might have lead to Germany abandoning its aggressive naval program, which might have averted World War 1 and thereby World War 2, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam...

For another account of D.A.N.G. XV (and piccies) see Dave Schueler's blog Naval Gazing.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

We like pike!

After a long hiatus since our last Pike & Shotte game, we played some 30 Years War on Saturday at the Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Mike Lombardi and Troy Wold provided all the figures. Mike provided the brains, too. The rest of us pushed lead (and plastic) and rolled dice.

Mike wanted to try the Mercenary Captains campaign in The Devil's Playground supplement for Pike & Shotte. The campaign pits coalitions of players in a mini-campaign of four scenarios. At the start of the campaign, the players roll dice to determine the character of their commander and the forces he commands. The commanders start as average, the troops start as a bit below average. As the campaign progresses, the quality of both may rise.

I rolled up a force whose commander was rated as "popular," which modified my die rolls for my troops but also gives my opponents an advantage in their command rolls in the games (although we forgot to do this...). My units came out to 4 x musketeers, 2 x pike blocks, 1 x reiters, 1 x dragoons. At eight units, I had the biggest force on the board—not that it counted for much.

One of my battalia deployed with musketeers forward supported by pikes
There were four forces in the game. Troy and I played one side, Brett and Paul played another, while Mike adjudicated and kibitzed. The object was to hold a small town in the center of the board. The scenario in The Devil's Playground calls for a 4' x 4' playing area. We were on a 6' x 8' area. We started just 12" in from the edge, so we actually had more ground to cover to get at each other. Instead of being just 24" apart at the start, we were 48" apart. The medium guns that Troy and Paul had were out of range on turn 1.

Troy's Bavarian horde on my left
Troy had one battalia of 2 musketeers and a pike block, another battalia of just one musketeer unit and a pike block, a medium gun, and a unit of militia scum. He deployed opposite the town with the intention of rushing in and occupying it first.

Brett countered by charging his cuirassier unit against one of Troy's musketeer units, but just failed to contact. The next turn Troy managed to shoot it up with muskets and close range artillery, which sent it packing when Brett rolled snake-eyes on his courage test.

Bavarians in the village defending against Brett's Proddies
Troy got a musketeer unit into each of the village areas and managed to hold them against attacks by Brett's pikes on one side and Paul's pikes on the other. Troy was helped against Paul by the intervention of his commander who was rated as 'bloodthirsty', a characteristic that gave him extra combat dice.

Troy's 'bloodthirsty' commander inspires his troops to hold the farm
I slowly advanced on the right against Paul's forces. For both Paul and I our command rolls didn't let us make huge sweeping movements. It wasn't until turn 3 that I got into musket range of any enemy, though Paul's gun was popping away (without effect) on my musketeers from turn 2.

The highwater mark of my advance
My musketeers managed to pepper Paul's pike block that had been repulsed by Troy's hedgehog. I pushed him into shaken status, which left him in a delicate state. Shaken, he couldn't do much except sit and take fire or attempt to rally, but that option had its own peril. All our units are rated 'mercenary', which means that a failed attempt to rally from being shaken will cause the unit to retire ("They don't pay me for this!").

While onr village area was secure, Troy and Brett remained locked in combat for the second. Brett lost a musketeer unit in the fight, but his pikes remained stuck in against Troy's musketeers in the buildings.

Brett's pike assail the village
On the other side, my other battalia was advancing towards Paul's gun and militia. My dragoons were on the far left (mounted) with the reiters behind them. There was one point where I hoped to fling the dragoons against Paul's militia, but I failed the command roll (they were at -2 because they were out of range of my commander).

My second battalia and commander stride confidently forward
By now we'd completed six turns: end of game. Starting so far apart kept us from getting at each other sooner. There was also a lot of blocking terrain that obscured fields of fire and hindered movement. On the plus side, I didn't lose any units, which is beneficial to the campaign.

After the game we rolled dice to see how we improved. Because we held the town, we were the winners, which could factor into the results. The three things we checked for were 1) commander upgrades, 2) unit skill upgrades, 3) reinforcements.

I managed to get a commander upgrade that give a +1 in combat to any of my troops within 12" of my commander. All my units got plusses to either their shooting (musketeers) or combat (pikes). My dragoons got increased stamina (I'd rather they shot better). I had a chance at getting up to two more units, but flubbed it on a die roll of "1" and got no reinforcements.

Troy managed to get another gun and milita unit, Brett recovered his lost cuirassiers, but got no reinforcements leaving him minus one musketeer for the campaign. I don't recall how Paul fared. I think at least one player got a command boost to "8" (we all started at "7").

We decided we liked the campaign and we'll stick with it. It's a good encouragement to finish painting my 30 Years War figures that I started nearly a year ago. (Longer, actually, because December is when I completed painting my first batch of figures. I'd started them much earlier than that.)