Saturday, October 17, 2020

A fond farewell to the cock-pit of King County

The Panzer Depot closed for business this week. John Kennedy had run the business for 17 years. Initially a distribution business, John was the first US distributor for the Flames of War minis and was a distributor for a few companies from the UK, he moved more towards a local retail-only operation in the final years.

In looking recently through the Cascadia Tabletop Wargamers Facebook group's photos, it dawned on me that more miniature battles have occurred on the tables in John's store over the years than anywhere else in the region. It was the (miniature) cock-pit of King County—if not the whole of Western WA. It was our own private Belgium. But while Belgium is still here, The Panzer Depot is gone.




COVID was the last nail in its coffin, although John says that the business had been struggling for the last few years. The news of the store's closing came unexpectedly in September and effected a small shockwave through the gamers in this region.

For those of us who live closer in to Seattle or Bellevue, The Panzer Depot was more than a store or even a venue for miniature gaming, it was a community, a hub around which friendships were formed.




Miniature gaming will continue—assuming we're not locked down forever—but we'll go old school. Most of us started miniature gaming in garages and private homes; we're returning to that now. I expect, however, some fragmentation. At The Panzer Depot you could stop by to buy something or just check in to see what was going on and meet a host of characters with whom you might connect.

We've been spoiled in this region for decades with several commercial venues to play. American Eagles hobby shop in Seattle (various locations) was a locus for miniature gaming since the 80s, but gaming there declined sharply after their last move because no one really liked the new gamespace. In any case, American Eagles shut down in 2011. The Game Matrix in Tacoma is still available as a place to game, although it's always felt iffy about planning a game there. Pokemon tournaments—replete with noisy children—could appear unexpectedly and your game would get bumped, if you were lucky; otherwise, you might be relegated to a small table in the back of the room where you'd be overwhelmed with the din. When I first came to Washington, 30 years ago, there were a few gamers who met in the attic of Plastics and Tactics, a moribund hobby store in Tacoma. That's where I first met people who have remained lifelong friends, though some are now gone.

The Panzer Depot was a lovely, cluttered hole in the wall filled with fascinating things, so I was startled to see the pictures John posted of the empty store.




I made one last trip this morning to see the old place where happy memories dwell and peek in the windows at the bare walls. The empty shell reminded of the words of Psalm 103:16,

For the wind passes over it, and it is gone,

And its place knows it no more. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

BeDAZzled


As if all the time and money I already spend on hobbies 'n' stuff wasn't enough, I've found yet another enthusiasm that's taking up time and money: 3D art creation using DAZ Studio. Over the past week and a half, I've been fiddling with this new toy like a kid on Christmas Day with his new Red Ryder BB gun—so far without shooting my eye out.

I'd seen a lot of 3D art and always thought it was pretty cool. I also thought it was something that required a huge amount of skill and talent (so, not for me) as well as very expensive cutting edge software and hardware. I finally got curious enough to look into the tools that are available. To my surprise, I discovered that DAZ Studio (a.k.a. DAZ3D) is much less expensive than I imagined—much less in that it's actually free.

I downloaded it and expected to find that working in the tool was like landing a rocket on Mars, but it's not. I've used a lot of 2D graphics programs, so a lot of things seem pretty natural. I also fiddled with an early, early 3D environment creation tool at Adobe 20+ years ago. Getting used to working in a 3-dimensional space was only a little bit challenging. In no time at all I was working with characters in the 3D environment, posing them, dressing them, having them make funny faces, morphing them this way and that, etc., then changing the perspectives on scenes I'd created and rendering them out to 2D images. I was kinda hooked—and that's where the spending money part comes in.

I wondered why DAZ3D would be a free download given its intrinsic coolness. I thought maybe it's just a 'lite' version and to get the full features you need to cough up the Benjamins. Not so. The product you download is the full meal deal as far as tools and features are concerned (sort of). But like drug dealers selling their wares, only the first taste is free. The thing about 3D art is that it's like any hobby where you're always wanting to do a new thing with it, which meaning buying extra stuff.

DAZ3D comes with the basic figures, some clothing, a few props, a few simple environments. But you'll quickly exhaust those resources. If you want to do more cooler things, you need to start buying stuff to use. That's where you have to pay.

I think the best metaphor for doing 3D art is that it's like photography. Staging a scene may require elaborate props, which of course can be bought from daz3d.com (that's why they give you the free software) or other third party sources like Renderocity.com. There's also a lot of free stuff—of varying quality—available that you can use. Lighting plays a huge part in getting the right look for a scene. It's complicated, but you can also use a simpler default lighting.

The figures in DAZ3D are like Ken and Barbie dolls. You need to add all the costumes and props to set the scene you want to render. There's an amazing amount of stuff available. You can also buy character presets that have specific head and body parameters and preset poses, which you can use as is or as a base to start from for a modified pose. Once these are loaded in your system, you can morph them to the basic figures or to other presets to create unique characters of your own design.

As you add (i.e., purchase) characters and face/body morphs, you get more options for how the figures can be changed. For example, you can buy preset facial expressions that you apply to a character using a slider control, but some of the things the expressions do will appear separately in the controls. You may have multiple controls then for eyes, mouth, eyebrows, ears, etc.

One of the more precious items to have in your little cache of resources is hair. You wouldn't think it, but it's invaluable because the basic characters are bald. You've got to apply something to cover their pates and there are a lot of possibilities, all of which you have to pay for.

Right now I'm working in a sci-fi genre for my creations that I've uploaded to my DeviantArt page. I'm hoping to grow the collection over time. I have a lot of ideas for scenes that will keep me DAZzling for a while.

My first real render
My first real render (I fiddled with a lot of test renders) uses a character I created by starting with a base female figure (called Genesis 8 in DAZ), morphing a percentage of the head/body shapes from a couple of preset characters (which I purchased), and then finishing off by making my own unique morphs to the face and body using the built-in controls for that. It's amazing how detailed the options can be. I added freckles to her face and body, changed the eye color, added hair (a short military style buzz, which I bought) and colored it red. I applied sweat over her skin (purchased). I dressed her in a futuristic military uniform (also purchased) and gave her a big-ass sci-fi gun (another purchase). I posed her using a preset pose (the pose came as part of the weapon purchase, it's nice how they do that for some things), which I then modified using the controls than can manipulate things as detailed as the bending of the end bit of a pinky finger, the curl at the edge of the mouth, etc.

That render took only about 20 minutes or so using a fairly simple lighting setup. I just rendered the figure with no environment, so the background comes out transparent, which let me add a background in Photoshop. I played around with options and used a desert image I found on a site that provides free wallpapers for your computer screen. One size option is for the iMac 27" retina that's 5120 pixels by 2880. My render resolution is currently at 4:3 aspect ratio for a 3000 x 2250 px image.

Rendering a 3D creation has a lot of variables when it comes to time and effort. It also depends very much on the GPU (graphics processing unit) you use. DAZ3D loves Nvidia graphics cards and is optimized to use them. I'm working on my new iMac 27" with an ATI Radeon Pro 580X card with 8GB VRAM. That's not bad—much better than my older Mac—but it can take a hellaciously long time to render a complex scene that requires numerous iterations to render.


The render above has been at about 96% to 98% complete for several hours. It's not a complex scene; it only involves a single character with a vignette around it (and a cat). However, the lighting is subtle and that's something that takes a lot of iterations to do. The finishing time, that last 4% or so, can go on forever. The rendering is progressive, so I can see the 2D image as it renders and all the noise etc. that still has to be rendered out.

Still lots of noise in parts at 99% rendered
It's possible to get a eGPU (external graphics processing unit) that plugs into the Mac through its Thunderbolt3 port. Alas, Apple and Nvidia don't like each other right now. Both have removed support for the other in their ongoing feud over who knows what. That leaves Mac users like me with no other option that relying on our built-in graphics cards. As I said, it's not bad, but an Nvidia eGPU would significantly speed up render time. That's a good thing because while a scene is rendering, you can't do anything else in DAZ3D.


Getting a PC with an Nvidia card is a possibility. The low end of the high-end machines is about 1K for the box. The higher-end boxes can go up to 4K. I'm not tempted in either case. Unless I were to get really, really into 3D art rendering, it's a lot of money spent for a machine that I intend to do only one thing with. Ironically, if I knew I was going to be doing this 3 months ago, I may have bought a high-end PC rig rather than spending 3K on a custom iMac.

Multiple objects in a scene can slow rendering way down. That's because the relationship between objects has to be considered in lighting, especially if there are reflective surfaces like mirrors, shiny armor, etc.

I discovered early on that setting the max render time was important. By default, render max is set to 7200 seconds (2 hours). When it hits the max, the render stops right there, which may leave a very unfinished work. I bump that way up to the max of 259200 seconds (72 hours) to ensure that I get a full render. I believe it's possible to turn it off altogether, so there's no time limit at all.

Other renders after my first have built on the materials I bought for that and added more. Some have been set in environments that challenged my poor lighting abilities (I have much to learn), though it's very similar to what you'd do in photography only you're setting it all up digitally. I hated fiddling around with my lighting setup when I was doing photography.


That scene required a new character with new costume and props and new poses. (Are you seeing a theme about purchasing?) The nice thing with setting up a scene, is that you can change perspective and render from different angles with different lighting effects.


You can also take renders that have no environment and render them multiple times at varying angles (these are usually 'quick' renders of about 20 minutes or so), or with a some variation in placement or pose, and apply a variety of backgrounds in Photoshop.




There are a lot of possibilities as I add more props 'n' stuff. There are a lot of costumes, props, and environments available. I'll run out of ideas (or enthusiasm; let's be real, it's me and there are other shiny things out there) before I run out of options.

Do sci-fi girls actually require less body armor than sci-fi boys?
The render below took more than 15 hours and 1426 iterations to complete. Even then, I had to spend time in Photoshop despeckling it, which makes it better, but not best. It's dark. You can barely see that there's a cat rubbing against her leg.


It should have rendered longer, but the quality setting may have prevented that. My max time was fine, it could have kept rendering for another day, if needed. However, I kept rendering quality on the default setting of 1.0. I can dial that up to 15.0.

The render below used the same character, but without the environment and its lighting setup (the background is wallpaper). I dialed the rendering quality to 2.19, but it stopped rendering after 1 hour and 6 minutes because 'convergence threshold reached' according to the log. That's another setting to dial up to 100. I learn as I go...


The highly reflective body armor she's wearing is really causing grief with the renders. The cat, on the other hand, is non-reflective and an easy, though not instantaneous, render (50 minutes).


Sunday, June 14, 2020

Rule Germania, Germania Rule the Waves


We played our first game in the Great Wee Fleet project on Saturday. For me, it was the first gaming I've done since late February. It was an odd feeling of somewhat returning to normalcy.

Kevin Smyth and I had planned it for a few weeks. We decided on an encounter between a small American squadron and a small German squadron, mostly because I had some German ships painted and Kevin had lots of Americans he was eager to get into action. I contribute just two of the German ships, Kevin supplied the others and the whole lot of the Americans.

SMS Gazelle
SMS Arcona
Each squadron had 4 ships. The Germans were the following:

  • SMS Gazelle, a protected cruiser mounting 10 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Arcona, basically a sister or cousin to the Gazelle—Conway's has them as sisters, but Jane's makes them different classes
  • SMS Iltis, a small gunboat with just 4 x 4.1" guns
  • SMS Luchs, another small gunboat in the same class as the Iltis.
Steve Puffenberger and I shared the command. I took Gazelle and Arcona (the ships that I brought to the game) and Steve commanded the two gunboats that Kevin supplied. The ships started in line ahead with Gazelle leading, followed by Arcona, Iltis, and Luchs.

The Americans were:
  • USS Atlanta, the "A" of the ABCD ships that were the beginning of the American Steel Navy way back in 1883, she was a protected cruiser with 2 x 8" guns and 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Detroit, an unprotected cruiser mounting 2 x 6" guns and 8 x 5" guns
  • USS Concord, a gunboat mounting 6 x 6" guns
  • USS Nashville, a gunboat mounting 4 x 4" guns
Kevin commanded the two cruisers and Dave Schuler commanded the gunboats. Atlanta lead the line, followed by Detroit, Concord, and Nashville.


The rules we used were Fire When Ready! by David Manley. The rules seem to be scaled to battleship actions. Ship damage is accounted for using two values: ADV is the damage value above the waterline, BDV is the damage value below the waterline. ADV damage affects whether your ship can fight, BDV damage reflects whether it can still float. ADV is BDV plus increased values for armored bits. BDV is calculated at 1 point per 500 tons displacement up to 2000 tons, at which point it's calculated as 1 point per 1000 tons +3. This gives a reasonable amount of damage that can be taken for larger ships that might be 15000 tons or more. As I mentioned in a previous post, we're looking at gaming actions with smaller ships. Even at 1 point BDV/ADV per 500 tons, you still have very low defence values. After discussing it, Kevin and I thought that 1 point per 100 tons was feasible. I worried that maybe that would generate defense values that were too large, but it turned out to be spot on.

Since we were using 1/1250th scale models, we also used inches for measurement, i.e., 1" =  1000 yds, rather than 1cm = 1000 yds.

Both lines of battle moved at only moderate speed. The German cruisers were fast at 21 and 22 kts, but to keep formation at the start, they had to keep down to the flank speed of the gunboats, which was a mere 13 kts. None of the American ships was particularly fast and their line started at about 14 kts, I think.

Our initial shooting was a bit dismal. We opened up at about 4000 yds, well within medium range. My first shots were failures even when I hit. Arcona got a hit on Atlanta, but my 5 x D6 damage dice only scored a '6', which was no damage at all. 

On the second turn, things got dicier. Steve's ship Iltis got blasted by a salvo that wrecked her upper decks and took out 3 of her 4 4.1" guns. There was nothing left for her to do but turn away and head out of the battle zone.

At this point, my dice rolling turned from failure to fantastic and stayed that way throughout the game. I pasted the Atlanta and Detroit for a couple turns inflicting steady, though unspectacular damage on them. I was not much hurt by any of the fire at me.

The German cruisers benefited from having a large battery (10 guns!) of all the same caliber. There are advantages in determining damage depending on how many guns are firing. The German cruisers could bring 4 guns to bear forward or aft and 5 to port or starboard, which gave me 5 damage dice if I hit with a broadside of 4 if hit a target ahead or astern.

With Steve's gunboats in dire straights, I split off the cruisers into a flying squadron to start moving full and turn about to go around the end of the American line. Going faster also helped me to avoiding getting hit. The Americans split off then as well, with Dave's gunboats coming my way with Kevin maintaining mostly the original course with his 2 cruisers, countered mostly by Luchs, Steve's remaining gunboat, though I maintained them as my targets as long as I could.

Breaking up the formations
Due to my speed, I was able to get in quick and cross the T against Dave's gunboats. That proved disastrous for him. I got significant hits with my 4.1" guns and did a world of hurt with nothing much coming back at me. The Arcona also managed to get a torpedo hit against the Concord. For a change, I rolled poorly and inflicted much less damage than I could have. Nevertheless, the Concord was hurting. Gazelle tried a torpedo shot at Nashville, but missed.



Normally, torpedo damage is 1 x D6 points against both ADV and BDV. However, because we pumped up the defense values, a single D6 would be a pretty anemic effect even if you rolled a '6'. I hadn't figured out what that would be before the game, so we just went with using 2 x D6 damage. As I mentioned, I rolled poorly and got, I think, 5 points damage against Concord.

Concord was bad off, but Nashville still had some fight in her. The next turn, I swung around to go broadside to broadside with Dave's line—moving very slowly now because of damage. Nashville got a good shot against Arcona, which up to that time had little damage, despite being hit a few times by Kevin's cruisers. In response, both Gazelle and Arcona fired at Nashville and left her not quite a wreck.

At this point, we called the game. Of Steve's gunboats, the Iltis had been much damaged with with her ADV nearly shot up and only a single working gun. Luchs was still in fairly good shape, although one lucky salvo from Kevin's cruisers might easily change that. Gunboats are brittle. Kevin's cruisers were still in the fight, but were near the 2/3 damage mark that might have sent them away. The American cruisers were slightly heavier than the Germans, with around 32 ADV/BDV. The Germans were 27. Arcona was hardest hit—mostly from the Nashville's last salvo—while Gazelle was nearly unscathed, with a lot of ruin left in her.

The game was a German victory.

We feel very vindicated in bumping the ADV/BDV up for the small ships. The game wouldn't have lasted three turns otherwise. The damage we took in a single hit would have wrecked or nearly wrecked any of our ships if we stuck with the formulation in the rules. We'll probably vary it to 1 point per 200 tons as we introduce armored cruisers to the game mix. That will make gunboats even less worthwhile in the battle line, but then gunboats have no business going up against armored cruisers anyway.

I commend the services of Purple D20 above all the brave actions of my seamen. I didn't bring any dice to the game, so Kevin loaned me some of his. I used one purple die throughout for my hit determination rolls. Apart from turn 1, I never missed a salvo, consistently rolling above '10', usually above '15'. I even rolled a '20' for my torpedo hit, which was the minimum I needed. The torpedo from Gazelle missed, but it was still a roll of '18'.

Lila, Lila über Alles, über Alles in der Welt
I was also happy to be able to use my new, nifty spalted tamarind Wyrmwood dice tray. It arrived just before the plague shut everything down and I've been itching to get it into action these past three months. I was not disappointed.


I have more HAI ships coming from Germany that will fill out my wee Japanese flotilla. I may get another couple German ships. I'm not sure how much I'll do after that. I still have my Lyzard's Grin Japanese and Chinese fleets for Yalu that I have to complete.

I expect more pre-dreadnought gaming through the summer. We've got a full head of steam as we move out of the lockdown.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

The Great Wee Fleet Project continues


I have a lot of irons in the fire these days. Most active are the 1672 project, the Renaissance project (more on that later), the Irish project, and the ECW project (again, more later) with AWI and ACW warmish and sure to heat up at any time. On top of all these is the serendipitous Great Wee Fleet project. These days all I can do with my hobby time is work on projects. I haven't gamed since February and still may not for another month or more depending on the shifting whims of my state governor.

I've always been a fan of obscure subjects for my wargaming enthusiasm. The pre-Dreadnought period fits that niche nicely, especially the nichier aspects of the niche like a lot of what-ifs that could easily have occurred on far away stations given the pre-WW1 flexing and saber-rattling between the great powers and wanna-be great powers over colonial territory. Kaiser Bill was especially eager to grab what could be grabbed. He was rather disappointed when America grabbed all that Spanish territory in 1898, but Germany still managed to grab several places in the Pacific and get concessions for bases in China. Japan had come out of its isolation and wanted more and more influence in the East. The French were in Indochina. The British were, well, everywhere. On a hot day in a contended place, anything could happen...

When Kevin Smyth got the ball rolling on gaming this period, it didn't really take a lot of persuading. I just had to psyche myself up a bit before I jumped in with both feet. A lot of the psyching was fondly looking at my money before saying goodbye to it. The greatest variety of pre-Dreadnought ships available in 1/1250th scale comes from Navis and Hai in Germany. The models are made for the collector market, so expensive as all get-out. A single unprotected cruiser can run up to $50.00; even small gunboats are in the $40.00 range. Building a wee flotilla or two can make a strain on the exchequer that requires a whole naval appropriations bill. The price of admiralty is daunting.

Kevin's big plus for the using Navis and Hai ships for the project was that they don't need to be painted, they're good to go right out of the box. That's true, but the colors the ships come in are hit or miss. The navies of this era had a variety of paint schemes. Ships on foreign station tended to be painted white with buff or ochre upper works. The models from Navis and Hai tend to come in gray or white. Some details are painted, others are just left the base color.

Gazelle, Arcona, Temerario, and T-14
After mulling it over a while, I determined to paint the ships and got to work on the German cruiser Arcona, one of the ships in my most recent buying binge. I wanted to paint it in a scheme that might be used in the Far East, like China or the Pacific. After looking online and chin-wagging with people on the Naval Wargaming Facebook group, I went with a white hull and yellow ochre upper works and funnels, finished off with a black wash. Ship models are actually pretty easy to paint.

SMS Arcona, WIP - the ship is complete, but the base is not done
I based my ships using  a variant of the sizes recommended in David Manley's Fire When Ready rules. Manley's bases are for 1/2400th scale. I doubled the dimensions for 1/1250th, but found that I had to move the lengths up a notch to accommodate the models. For example, the Arcona was 344' long. In FWR, ships up to 350' are mounted on a base 15-20mm wide and 40mm long. However, the model itself was just over 80mm long, so I added another 20mm in length to give me a final dimension of 30mm wide by 100mm long. That's actually the correct dimension for a ship 350' to 450' long.

I used .020 sheet styrene over a layer of flexible magnetic sheet. All my earlier naval projects have been troubled by problems of storage and portage. The ships on their bases bounce around a lot in transit. I went with magnetic bottoms for by 1/600th ancient galleys and have been meaning to retrofit magnetic bottoms to my vast ACW naval collection. Someday...

.020 plastic layered with 1mm magnetic base
I paint the bases Vallejo Blue Green with some splotches of turquoise and green, then cover them in gloss gel medium, which dries clear and creates a glossy, transparent rippled surface. Touched up white white wakes, they look pretty nice.

SMS Arcona
SMS Gazelle
Since painting Arcona and Gazelle, I went on to my two smallest Japanese ships Chishima and Kohei-Go. Both ships had very, very short careers in the Japanese navy, so the first what-if of my what-ifs is "What if these ships didn't sink days or months after their commissioning?"

Rules

Our idea is to focus on smaller engagements between smaller ships like protected/unprotected cruisers and gunboats. Ships that mostly run 1000 to 6000 tons displacement. The behemoths of these engagements would be a rare armored cruiser.

The plan is to use David Manley's Fire When Ready as the preferred rules. When it comes to naval wargaming, we're Manley men here in the Pacific Northwest. I like FWR, it's a fun game that goes quickly enough and is suitable for larger actions with larger ships like battleships and armored cruisers. I'll need a few games under my belt to see if that holds true when the action involves smaller ships.


The way a ship's damage value is calculated in FWR is based on its displacement. Smaller ships don't have a lot of damage to take before they become an artificial reef 30 fathoms down. That's not much of a problem when the gun sizes are smaller and don't inflict a lot of damage. However, firing HE instead of AP—which is a good option when all the ships are mostly unarmored—adds +2 points to any damage inflicted. If a ship's defensive value is 7 points, it could easily take half its defensive value in damage on a single hit. Very small ships, like the USS Petrel, a gunboat that was part of Dewey's squadron at Manila Bay, would have a defensive value of 3 points. A single hit from a 4.1" gun firing HE could obliterate it.

Although I haven't found anything in the rules that says so, I expect that shooting may represent several shots for smaller QF guns and single salvoes for larger ones. The turn scale is 3 minutes.

An alternative I've been mulling over is to use R.A. Walker's old The Devil at the Helm rules from 1978. Kevin and I used these decades ago to play a Manila Bay game using our 1/1100th scale Houston's ships. The rules have a lot more detail, but seem a bit inchoate. There's a lot more prep to do to make up the ship cards. For the Manila Bay game, I made up fairly elaborate charts with detailed deck plans showing the placement of all the weapons. I did it all in Aldus FreeHand 4.0, a now long-defunct software product. I can't open any of the files in Adobe Illustrator, so all that work would need to be redone from scratch.


The advantage of The Devil at the Helm is that it's more granular in how it models naval combat. Guns fire in single shots, larger guns may need 2-4 turns of reloading between shots. It might take several hits, even on smaller ships, to do critical damage—unless there's a lucky shot as Kevin's son Patrick (now Patrick Galactic) can attest when he played in our game somewhere back in the 90s.

Walker also has a later set of rules called Steam and Steel published by Navwar in 1991. I haven't really dug through them too much at this point. They seem to give smaller ships even shorter shrift than FWR. These may get a playtest, I think. Like with FWR, reading rules and playing the game are two different experiences. What seems too easily done, i.e., blowing up a ship in one shot, may be harder in an actual game. If my dice rolling is anything to go by, it may be impossible—though not impossible for my opponents.

Tsushima, by Graham Short (2002) is a larger scale set for  the period 1880-1906. They have a similar feel to FWR, but with an interesting method of assigning variable damage. Each gun uses a die to determine damage points. The dice range from D4 to D20 to 3xD10 depending on the gun size and range. I had thought of a similar idea myself once. I think it has a lot to recommend it. There's no guarantee that a hit will do a determinate amount of damage. Tsushima is intended for use with 1/3000 to 1/6000 scale models. It's also focused on actions between larger ships. The one hit and "bang you're dead" factor for smaller ships applies even more than in FWR given that a 6" gun at short range can do D8 damage and a typical cruiser will have about 5-7 damage points max. A gunboat has 3 or less.


Another set I've given thought to is Age of Iron: Navies in Transition 1865-1890. It's just a little bit early for the period we're looking at, but can be used with a little imagination and/or suspension of disbelief. I think I picked up my copy at The Emperors Headquarters in Chicago in 1990 or 91. At the time, there really weren't any available models for the period, but they've always intrigued me. I played the ACW Age of Iron rules by the same authors. I liked some aspects of them, but only played them once. (They might be worth giving another try in some future post-COVID age.)


I have a pre-made set of ship charts for the Battle of the Yalu (1894), which I've always wanted to do using the Houston's Ships 1/1100th scale ships I have for that battle. Mssrs. Walsh et Pugsley also have an later pre-Dreadnought set, which I have. Somewhere. I recall it also to be more focused on the BBs of the era and not the cruisers and gunboats.

It's fortunate that naval gaming is versatile. There's usually no special basing that's required. It's easy to run games using different rules. Our ACW naval games are a testament to that. We've played several different sets of rules with the ships we have.

I'm pretty happy with how this project is shaping up and the enthusiasm we're generating in the online chats with Kevin, Dave Schueler, Eric Donaldson, Bill Stewart, and John Gee. (Mike Lombardy is also on the emails, but he has no intention of getting wee with us.) We're psyching up for Freedom Day here in WA when all people of goodwill may once again go about their business. Maybe June, maybe July. Maybe the Murder Hornets will get us first.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

The Great Wee Fleet Project


I was innocently minding my own business working on various projects that entail buying a lot of figures that will take me forever to paint, when Kevin Smyth annouced that he was collecting 1/1250th scale pre-dreadnought era ship models for a gaming project.

I resisted. I truly did. In order to bolster my resistance, I started browsing the available products at www.1250ships.com. Surely looking won't hurt and what I don't buy will make me stronger. So I'm gobsmacked that after manfully resisting temptation and just looking at pictures on a website, a package containing several small ship models should arrive at my home today. To my further surprise, they were all Japanese pre-1900 ships made by Hai models in Germany.

What could I do? It would have been heartless to leave them out in the cold. So now I'm the admiral of a Great Wee Fleet (well, 6 ships so far—and two of them mere torpedo boats).

Chishima is an unprotected cruiser built by the French. It was small and lightly armed with a main battery of five 3" guns and a secondary battery of six 1-pounders. It never saw combat, having been lost in a collision in November 1892, 6 days after it was commissioned. It's still a charming model.



Takachiho was a protected cruiser built by Elswick in England. Her sister ship, Naniwa, was commanded by the future Admiral Togo. Her main armament was two 10" guns in barbettes with a secondary battery of six 6" guns.




Akashi was another protected cruiser. Not as well armed as the Takachiho, with a main battery of two 6" guns in open mounts and a secondary battery of six 4.7" guns.



Kohei-Go was an ex-Chinese torpedo gunboat (formerly Kuang-Ping). At first, I couldn't find a lot of information on Kohei-Go, but that turned out to be because I just wasn't looking hard enough or smart enough. She didn't have a long career in the Japanese navy, sinking in a collision just months after being commissioned. Jane's doesn't have any information about here. Conway's provides information only about her career in Chinese service as part of the Kuang Yi class of gunboats. Jentschura provides details on p. 94 of Warships of the Imperial Japanese Navy, 1869–1945. It mounted just three 4.7" guns, four 47mm Hotchkiss QF guns (3-pounders), 4 MGs, and four 15" torpedo tubes, the arrangement of which is obscure (Conway's gives them as 14" TT above water, Jentschura isn't so sure).




Shiritaka and T-22 are torpedo boats. T-22 was built in 1895 in Germany. Shiritaka was built in 1899 in Japan.


My plans for these ships is to use them with David Manley's Fire When Ready rules for the pre-Dreadnought era. Kevin is focusing on Americans and Germans with a few South American ships on the side. My thinking is to focus on potential/hypothetical naval encounters in the Far East, which could entail Japanese, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, British, French, and American ships. Like Kevin, I'm interested in scenarios involving smaller ships, no bigger than a cruiser—and mostly just protected cruisers at that. I've only played Fire When Ready using battleships and armored cruisers, so I'm not sure how well the rules model fights between unarmored ships armed with pop-guns. We'll see.

Pursuant to my interests, I manfully resisted some Navis models of German ships (Gazelle and Arcona). I am also manfully resisting a few more Japanese ships from Hai, one of which is the old central battery ironclad Fuso spiffed up in its 1894 configuration.

I'm strongly inclined towards re-painting these. They look pretty nice, but the finishes that come from Hai and Navis vary, the Akashi, for example, is gray while all the others are white. I also plan to put them on bases with magnetic bottoms. The masts are very delicate and storage and travel could take a toll. They come in boxes affixed with the WORLD'S STRONGEST DOUBLE-SIDED TAPE™. So strong, I haven't tried to remove them yet. I figure I'll have to slice them away with an XActo knife.

I've re-painted and based some Neptun 1/1250th WW2 ships that I use for Action Stations! (another set of Manley rules for manly men). They turned out quite well, so I have that to recommend it.