Sunday, February 5, 2017

Drumbeat X

On Saturday we held our annual Drumbeat game day at the Lake City Community Center in Seattle. It was a good turnout and we had a good time, but poignant with Dick Larsen being in the hospital due to his recent stroke. Drumbeat is Dick's brainchild. He founded it ten years ago as a game event to get us through the grim Seattle winter and it's been going strong ever since.

Game 1: Quetzalcoatl Rampant

Kevin Smyth and I put on our game of Quetzalcoatl Rampant. We tweaked things just a bit after the last playtest and assumed that we were in good shape.

The Aztecs deploy
In our early playtests, the Spanish consistently wiped the floor with the Aztecs. We tweaked things a bit to make the Spanish less formidable and the Aztecs less horrible. I'm not sure if we went a tweak too far or what, but the last two games have been disasters for the Spanish. 

Aztecs defenders of the village
Part of this problem has been the inexplicable inability of the Spanish commanders to make their activation rolls. In the Drumbeat game, the Spanish never managed to get more than a handful of activations for their troops. The Aztecs did better than average.

Taking corn
Unlike the last play of this scenario, the Spanish/Tlaxcalans managed to capture corn. However, they didn't manage to get it off the board. The Aztec counterattack landed in the Spanish/Tlaxcalan right rear and just started tearing things up. The Spanish troops were on the opposite side and couldn't manage to get an activation anyway. 

The Aztec counterattack: kicking butt and breaking taking hearts
The "Your beating heart" rule proved to be too much for the players. We hadn't used it much in our earlier games because it was moot. The Spanish v. Aztecs melées left the Aztecs too beat up to pass a simple courage test, they didn't bother with trying to take captives. In our last games, the Tlaxcalans—whose regular warriors are no match for Aztec knights—bore the brunt of the fighting and easily lost heart, so to speak. I'll have to tweak things to make it less easy for the Aztecs to convert casualties to captives and lessen the effect. I'm a bit hesitant, though, to make too many tweaks due to what may just be anomalous events. 

Sitting out the battle
The next task is getting our figures ready for the two scenarios we're running at Enfilade! in May.

Game 2: The Pikeman's Lament

After fine dining at Seattle's own Chez Richard, we got ready for the second game of the day.

Doug Hamm was set to come down from Vancouver BC for the day to put on a game of The Pikeman's Lament with Bill Stewart, but he got snowed in instead. Bill had just rebased a whole pile of his 28mm ECW for the rules I had two dragoon units completed, so we managed to pull it off as understudies. There was no particular scenario, we just put terrain out and set up two opposing forces divided between six players. One side was in red, the other in blue—except for my turncoat dragoons, who were in red.

I had my two dragoon units, plus two units of Bill's cavalry taken as trotters.

Part of my forces deployed
Opposite me was Wes Rogers with a similar force, except that his cavalry were taken as gallopers.

Facing off across a wee brook
The object of the game was to take and hold the bridge that sat in the midst of a small village (whose beautiful building were scratch-built by Bill Stewart).

Commanded Shot taking position by the dung pile
The red forces took position early in the game and managed to get a unit of pikemen on the bridge. However, it was not to hold it long. Shot at by blue musketeers in the surrounding houses, it finally wavered (and kept wavering) after a whiff of grapeshot from Russ Bowder's regimental gun.

Enemy pikemen on the bridge, alas
Russ' gun fared poorly after that. He became the target of a lot of fire until the crew was all shot away or had been removed from failed morale tests while already wavering. We had no guns painted for the game, so we pressed into service a couple light guns I'd painted for my dormant 1672 project.

Commanding my forces, was my personal figure, surrounded by his four cats, painted to look like Grendel, Bogart, Rhiannon, and Maebh.

I ride with cats
On my flank, Wes and I sparred a bit. He had the upper hand for a short while, and then I managed to come back briefly. At one point Wes' officer challenged mine. I lost the duel and was severely wounded and left writhing on the field with my cats indifferent to my pain and wanting food. A crueler fate could befall no man.

Dragoons slugging it out

Eventually, Wes took me out. I managed to kill his officer in the course of wiping out his galloper unit. Both of us battered and officerless, Wes had the last man standing—he also managed to get one of those lucky activations where he rolled boxcars, then got reinforcements. He was able to replace his lost galloper unit and soon had command of the flank.

On the rest of the field, things slowly went for red. Russ was unable to hold the buildings he'd occupied, Tyler (on Russ' right) got most of his troops shot away from Gary Greiss' musketeers. In the end blue ceded the field to red, the day was theirs.


Drumbeat X went very well. There were several other games being played, including a morning game Wes ran of Loose Files and American Scramble, a venerable set of American War of Independence rules by Andy Callan.  Kevin ran a Lion Rampant game in the afternoon with his Hundred Years War English against Darren Howard's French.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Pikmean's Lament, A Review

On Monday, I enthusiastically picked up my early release copy of The Pikeman's Lament at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland (maybe the store should be called The Pike and Panzer Depot). I've been waiting a while for this title from Osprey. It's the result of an international collaboration between Brit Dan Mersey, author of Lion Rampant et al. and Swede Michael Leck. It's their adaptation of Dan's Lion Rampant rules to 17th c. pike and shot warfare, which is Michael's specialty.

The basic game engine

The rules don't betray their lineage. With a few exceptions, players familiar with Lion Rampant can play The Pikeman's Lament with no trouble at all. The basic game engine is the same:
  • Units are 6 or 12 figures and cost from 1 to 8 points.
  • Players organize their units into a company (née retinue) of 24 points.
  • Players roll 2D6 to activate units for moving, attacking, or shooting. A failed activation cedes the initiative to their opponent etc.
  • For shooting and combat, players roll 12 D6 for a unit that is above half strength (4+ or 7+ figures), and 6 D6 for a unit at half strength or below (3- or 6- figures).
  • Dice results are compared to the target unit's stamina (née armor) to determine how many figures are removed, if any.
  • Morale (née courage) tests are made for lost figures and units may stand, become wavering (née battered), or just bugger off altogether (rout).
It's a simple, easy-playing, elegant system and rewards adaptations, as I've made with Crepusculum Imperii and Quetzalcoatl Rampant (a collaboration with Kevin Smyth). Doug Hamm (he of Dots of Paint) created his own pike & shot variant for Lion Rampant, which he used to play his fictional ECW Tersey River campaign.

The key to the game engine's versatility is that the basic characteristics of a unit are addressed in its profile, which include,
  • The rolls needed to activate for a move, to attack, or to shoot.
  • The attack, defend, and shooting values.
  • The armor/stamina value (how many hits it takes to remove a figure as a casualty).
  • The courage/morale value.
The idiosyncratic bits are addressed in special rules that provide the flavor. Special rules can account for a lot of things. They are specific to unit types and you can make them up for any given period as far as your imagination goes. For example, the Your beating heart rule from our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant, captures the flavor of Aztec warfare where the goal was less to kill an enemy in battle than to capture him and sacrifice him to the Aztecs' bloody gods.

Upgrades (and downgrades) also give some versatility to a unit's performance and make each unit type a bit more Neapolitan than vanilla.

The tricky part in the rules, and in any adaptation of them, is ensuring that unit types are balanced against each other and that no unit type becomes invincible or useless (though the serfs/clubman unit type is really just an excuse to paint oiks and momentarily display them on the game table). We went through a few playtests of Quetzalcoatl Rampant to get to the point that the Spanish weren't too strong and the Aztecs too weak.

So how does The Pikeman's Lament fare?

The Pikeman's Lament

At first glance, the unit types for The Pikeman's Lament seem a lot like variations of the troop types for Lion Rampant. On closer inspection, the subtleties become more apparent as does the balance between unit types.

The horse

The horse are represented by three unit types: Gallopers, Trotters, and Dragoons.
  • Gallopers (@4 pts basic): Imagine Royalist cavaliers of the ECW or Gustavus Alophus' Finnish Hakkapeliitta. They move fast, charge at the drop of a hat, and strike hard. They seem at first to be The Pikeman's Lament version of mounted men at arms, but they're not. They're a bit more brittle (stamina 3), but they can be upgraded to Elite (stamina 4 for 2 pts.) or downgraded to Raw to be even brittler (stamina 2 for -1 pt.). For no points cost at all, you can make them aggressive, which increases their attack value to 3+, but adds in the wild charge special rule that makes them less manageable.
  • Trotters (@4 pts. basic): Imagine 30 Years War reiters and that ilk or the more stolid Roundhead troopers in the ECW. These are the mounted troops who use the firepower of their pistols and carbines more than a wild rush and cold steel. They're not best used for attacking, are ponderously slow, and they have a short pistol range (6"), but they can stand up in an even fight when defending against Gallopers. They also have a nifty special rule in the caracole. This rule allows them to move and shoot and, if the shooting results in their target wavering, they can charge home. This does a good job modelling the tactics used. They can also be upgraded/downgraded for better or worse stamina.
  • Dragoons (@4 pts. basic): In The Pikeman's Lament, these units are a hybrid. They're treated as mounted units for movement, but operate as foot units (in fact, it's typical to model them on foot, which is how they actually fought). They have a shorter range than shot (12"), but they can skirmish and evade. Used right they can be a proper annoyance while you maneuver your strike units into place. I wouldn't rely on them to hold ground.
The foot

Foot are represented by seven unit types: Forlorn Hope, Pike, Shot, Commanded Shot, Clubmen, Clansmen, and Regimental Guns.
  • Forlorn Hope (@6 pts. basic): This is a pretty versatile unit type. It's a bit like foot men-at-arms in Lion Rampant, but they shoot (or not). Imagine a determined assault force, grenadiers, a small band desperately holding an advanced position. They can be upgraded for a better shooting value or made aggressive, which ups their attack value and stamina, but takes away their shooting. Aggressive Forlorn Hope units represent troops relying on close combat, like a band of picked men with their plug bayonets fixed or resolute men armed only with hand to hand weapons. (I'll make the gallowglass for my 16th c. Irishmen Aggressive Forlorn Hope).
  • Pike (@4 pts. basic): Imagine pikes. These units are best for defense (having only a 5+ attack value) and if positioned well can protect your shot from unwanted encounters. They can upgraded to a better defense value (3+) or downgraded to worse (5+). Pikes have a close order special rule that allows them to form up for better fighting. The rule gives them +1 to their attack and defend dice rolls. Unlike schiltron in Lion Rampant, pikes in close order can move and attack, but at a slightly worse 6+ activation. Most players regard pike units in a 17th c. skirmish game like taking a knife to a gunfight. I like pike, myself, and am glad to see them treated here as more than the red-headed stepchild of the family.
  • Shot (@4 pts. basic): Imagine men with muskets in larger, formed groups (as formed as skirmish units can be). These units are the basic shooters of the game with an 18" range. If managed right (and activated well), they can get one to two shots off at anyone advancing against them. They can be upgraded to shoot better (4+) or worse (6). They also have a first salvo special rule that gives +1 to their dice in their first combat, whether shooting, attacking, or defending. Shot units representing troops from 1678 onward can use the close order rule like Pike. This use represents the more widespread adoption of bayonets, which enabled musketeers to stand up against attackers. It makes them even when defending against attacking Gallopers.
  • Commanded Shot (@2 pts. basic): These units are the skirmishers of The Pikeman's Lament. They represent any kind of skirmishing shooty foot. Low stamina (1) and six-figure units size makes them very brittle, but they can be an annoyance with their 5+ shooting at 12" range. They can use all the special rules that bidowers have in Lion Rampant. They can be upgraded to veteran that takes away the -1 for shooting when using the skirmish rule.They're good for games that have a lot of rough terrain, but won't stand well on a open field. Thank goodness they're cheap.
  • Clubmen (@ 1 pt.): These are the peasant rabble, townsmen, local farmers who band together to chase away the soldiers. They're not too effective at that. They can fill out a unit roster that needs an extra point to make 24, but they won't be a game winner. I think they're best used in scenario-based games as a wild card., e.g., on turn 6 clubmen enter on a randomly chosen table edge and proceed to attack the nearest unit of either side. There are no upgrades or, mercifully, downgrades for clubmen. They are what they are, however, in The Pikeman's Lament, they can shoot, albeit poorly and only at short range.
  • Clansmen (@3 pts.): Think highlanders or other pantless native types who have one good charge in them before they destroy or are destroyed. These match the Fierce Foot of Lion Rampant. I could imagine a Killiecrankie game with a bucket of these units charging downhill at raw government troops. (But I can't imagine painting all those tartans!) No upgrades or downgrades.
  • Regimental Guns (@4 pts. basic): Guns are a new edition to the Lion Rampant family, however, regimental guns are more like a shot unit. The unit represents small-caliber cannon that support infantry by firing grapeshot, hailshot, and/or very small cannonballs. They have a range of 18", like shot, a shooting value of 4+, but their shooting activation is 8+ making them less likely to be the first unit you attempt to activate, i.e., you wouldn't use them to soften up a target before you attack it with another unit. Too risky. Regimental guns can move like infantry at 6", but they have no attack ability. Regimental Guns can be upgraded to Field Guns, which gives them a 3+ shot at a whopping 48" range, but takes away any mobility other than pivoting in place on a move order.
Other bits

The nuances in the unit types aren't the only thing new in The Pikeman's Lament:
  • The officer (née  leader) role is much expanded. Each company has one officer who adds +1 to activation rolls to all unit's within 12" of his unit. But officers also have other traits that a player rolls for to build the character. You start out with an ensign with background story and basic trait (e.g., Blessed, which makes the officer invulnerable to lucky blows, or Lion of the North, which lets him re-roll up to 2 dice when his unit attacks--note that traits may be negative, too) and as you accrue honour points, you rise in rank and add more traits. This aspect of the rules is ideal for creating mini-campaigns that string together several missions.
  • Missions (née  scenarios) are ideas for games. There are 10 missions defined in the rules that run from straight up 1:1 face-offs to more complex tactical problems.
  • Activations have a different flavor, too. When you roll snake-eyes (double 1) or boxcars (double 6) for activation, you roll a D6 to see what happens and consult the appropriate chart. For double 1, the second roll is fraught with danger. For example, a "1" result for that test will see one or more of your units leaving the field. This new feature of the activation roll makes for more unpredictability in the game.
  • For one point, you can add an agitator, priest, or hero to any unit not lead by the officer. These characters represent individuals in a unit who inspire their fellows or spin them up into a frenzy. The character replaces one of the unit's normal figures and provides +1 to moral test dice rolls, which is in addition to the +1 they get for being within 12" of the officer. They're subject to lucky blows like an officer and give the opponent +1 honour if he kills 'em. This rule gives me a use for brothers Conall and Donall in my 16th c. Irish company.
Final impressions

The Pikeman's Lament is much more than a simple re-branding of Lion Rampant. The game stands in its own right as a very playable and colorful set of rules for pike & shot warfare. Dan and Michael have done a great job. It's certainly revamped interest in the period 'round these parts. Bill Stewart has rebased his ECW for the rules, as has Doug Hamm up in the frozen north of Vancouver, BC. I've got several units for the ECW in the works (some even finished!) and have made a lot of progress painting my Irish 16th c. company; look for a hated English oppressor company to follow. I'm looking forward to many enjoyable games.

Adaptability outside the 17th c.

One last point is about further adaptability. The rules are specified for the 17th c., or more specifically, from the 30 Years War to the Great Northern War (Michael being a Swede, the rules unsurprisingly cover the period of Sweden's military dominance. His blog Dalauppror has many AARs about Swedes v. Poles, Swedes v. Danes, Swedes v. the Empire, etc. Maybe Lion of the North Rampant would have been a better name). That being said, you could easily adapt them backwards to the 16th c. The unit types are just convenient names that cover tactical roles. For example, I'll be fielding my javelin-armed Irish kern as Commanded Shot (or even Veteran Commanded Shot) because despite not being armed with a gunpowder weapon, the tactical use is the same: annoying skirmishers with little staying power, but a lot of advantage in rough terrain. My gallowglass will be Aggressive Forlorn Hope. English border horse might be Raw Gallopers, etc.

I could imagine gaming the early Renaissance with them, too. Gendarmes could be Aggressive Gallopers, Arquebuses (or crossbows) could be Shot, clutches of halbardiers or sword and buckler men could be Aggressive Forlorn Hope, etc. In a pinch where no Pikeman's Lament unit type fits well enough, you could just retrofit in a Lion Rampant unit type, though that's likely to be unnecessary. For example, if you wanted to represent stradiots from the Italian Wars, you could make them Dragoons and model the figures mounted: they have a rapid move, can skirmish, shoot 'n' scoot, etc. (They are, in fact, identical to Mounted Yeomen in Lion Rampant). Mounted arquebusiers? Make 'em Trotters. I have a pile of unpainted Old Glory Wars of Religion that I've been wondering what to do with (I tried to sell them without success; they've truly been orphans). Armed with my copy of Blaise de Monluc's memoirs, I can get a lot of inspiration, eventually.

Postscript: Quick Reference sheets

I made a two-sided quick reference sheet (QRS) for The Pikeman's Lament. The first side is based on the QRS that's available from Osprey. I just made a few tweaks. The second side is a table with all the stats for unit types and their various upgrades.

If you want a PDF (sans the nifty parchment paper), click here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bumper crop (and joy)

The US Postal Service was kind to me today, yielding much. It turns out that the package I had to sign for wasn't the second Bicorne order, it was an envelope containing some conquistador flags from Adolfo Ramos in Spain. However, while I was at the post office signing for the envelope, they handed me another package they had in the back for me. It didn't need a signature, it was just there. It turned out to be an order from The Assault Group I made in December for more conquistadors and Tlaxcalans for the Quetzalcoatl Rampant project. Kevin swears he won't order from TAG ever again after a bad experience. I've ordered from them several times to get WW2 figures for Bolt Action, figures for the 30 Years War (best range for that ever!), and Spanish, Tlaxcalans, and Aztecs. My experience is that from ordering online to holding the wee lead men in my hot little hands is about six weeks. Not as lighting fast as ordering from Timeline Miniatures, but it gets here. As long as you're not in a hurry, you'll be OK.

Later in the day, my second order from Bicorne showed up in my mail box. These figures are the cavalry and the regimental gun and crew for ECW. I'm now complete with horse, foot, and guns. Bicorne figures (and Renegade, their siblings separated at birth) are truly exquisite figures. They're nice and big and have a lot of detail, which can be a chore when painting them, but which is especially conducive to good results from the dip method because there are more nooks 'n' crannies for the Minwax stain to puddle around and detail to make pop in the finished figures. When my Renegade order arrives (soon I expect) I'll have enough figures to make three Pikeman's Lament companies: Royalist (modeled on Hopton's bluecoat Regiment), Parliament (modeled on the Tower Hamlets regiment of the London Trained Bands), and Scots (modeled on the Master of Yester's regiment). I've still got more to add, like a frame gun for the Scots, a unit of blue-bonneted dragoons, and some of those Scots lancers who tipped the scale in the cavalry fight at Marston Moor. I'll also get some more cavalry (maybe some lobsters) and another regimental gun. Bill Stewart, meanwhile, has completed his herculean rebasing project and has enough units for several companies for both King and Parliament. I have a lot of catching up to do...

The crowning mercy of the day, however, was an email from John Kennedy of The Panzer Depot with the single word, "Joy!" He'd told me two weeks ago that his order of The Pikeman's Lament was on it's way. We expected it to come last week and my daily queries of "Is there joy?" were met with disappointment. I made the trip down to Kirkland at 5:00 and had the long-awaited rules in my hands.

I must say that I'm not disappointed, even after waiting for them for months. From what I gather, the rules were complete more than a year ago and have been held from release due to Osprey's production schedule. I managed to get a copy three days before the official release, so that's something. I'll post a full review of the rules later.

I'm now awash in lead for multiple projects. I just need to sit and paint for a while.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cornless in Xochimilco

Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, and I ran another game of our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant for Dan Mersey's Lion Rampant rules. We test-played the Kevin's scenario, which we'll host at the upcoming Drumbeat game day in February.

The scenario has the Spanish and their Tlaxcalan allies attacking an Aztec village in search of corn to feed themselves. The village sits in the middle of the board with four maize storage structures in its four corners.

Come to beautiful Mexico and be sacrificed on the altars of our bloodthirsty gods
There are also several chinampas, floating gardens, on one side, which are also a source of grain.

To win, the Spanish/Tlaxcalans needed to capture corn from the granaries and take it back off the board. To do this they had six 6-figure bearer units, plus their soldier/warriors could be pressed into service schlepping grain as well. The Spanish/Tlaxcalans started just outside the town on one side and the Aztecs started on the opposite side. There was also an Aztec relief force that could come in on the Spanish/Tlaxcalan flank on turn 2 or in their rear on turn 5.

Kevin and I played the Aztecs, Dave and Bailey played the Spanish/Tlaxcalans. Another player, Will, joined us and took over Kevin's forces, leaving him free to command the relief force.

The rules we used were a bit more tweaked from our last game. We gave the Aztecs and Tlaxcalans an 8" move and a 12" atlatl shot. Unlike our previous games, this was not a walkover for the conquistadors.

Dave and Bailey were plagued throughout the game by the most abysmal die rolling in the history of dice. My rolling and Will's was average; Kevin rolled some of my roughly six-sided antique bone dice and was unstoppable. He failed only one courage test or activation in the game, sometimes against heavy odds.

The hated invaders of Aztecland started with their Tlaxcalans forward with the idea that because they move faster, they'd be in position beyond the first granaries when they made contact with the Aztec defenders. However, they just couldn't get things going. Too many failed first activations ceded the initiative the the Aztecs who poured into the town.

Aztecs overrun the town
On my left, Will advanced steadily against Bailey's troops. The Spanish arquebusiers barely got into position, but then couldn't activate their fire actions. They got hurt by Will's skirmishers and later attacked and beaten by his warriors. Will was the only Aztec player to attempt the "Your beating heart" rule, which allows the Aztecs to opt for attempting to capture enemy casualties for sacrifice. It's a bit dicey because a failed attempt returns the casualty to the unit that lost it. However, successful attempts permanently increase the capturing unit's courage and decreases the courage of the unit whose men have will have their beating hearts offered to Huitzilipoctli.

Securing the temple
Kevin's relief force on the Spanish/Tlaxcalan flank pretty much sealed their doom—along with his amazing die-rolling. The relief force were the best of the Aztec units on the board. Will and I had basic warriors and skirmishers with one veteran unit. The relief force were several veteran units and an Eagle Knight unit.

Fearsome Eagle Knights on the flank
The Tlaxcalans managed to briefly secure one granary and even got bearers up to it to start loading the corn, but they were soon overrun by Aztec warriors. Kevin smacked them on one side and I smacked them on the other.

Spanish/Tlaxcalan high water mark
 By the end of the game, the Aztecs held the town and all the granaries. The Spanish soldiers had hardly been engaged, though it didn't look as though they would be able to pull off a win—even if their die-rolling dramatically improved. (Which wouldn't happen; let's face it: when you're cursed, you're cursed.)

Bailey on the ropes, pressed hard by Will's Aztecs
The invaders got no corn at all and will have a hungry time of it as they continue their campaign against Tenochtitlan with empty bellies.

This is the end
I'm not sure how to figure the Spanish/Tlaxcalan loss. Their die-rolls were legendarily bad. In the hall of shame for all-time poor rolling, they'd be on Mount Rushmore. They just couldn't get their units to do anything. Most of the Spanish remained unengaged and those who got engaged only did so too late. The Spanish lost their war-dogs and had one rodelero unit chewed up (one man remaining), they also lost a couple horsemen from the caballero unit and had their arquebusiers smacked around. Aztec losses were negligible. I don't think we lost any units, although some of Kevin's were down to below half strength.

Kevin's die-rolling was truly astonishing. Had it been just average, the Spanish would have fared much better on that flank.

I think the rules are tweaked to where we want them. We'll play this scenario at Drumbeat and again, plus another scenario, at Enfilade! in May.

Postscript: Grizzled Mox &c.

After the game, Kevin, Dave, and I repaired to Mox Boarding House in Bellevue for beer, lunch, and a short game of The Grizzled, a cooperative card game set in the trenches of World War One. Players have to work together to survive missions.

It's not easy and we lost the game after three missions when my character, Gaston Fayard, accumulated too many hard knock cards. By then it was late in the day and we didn't have time to play more rounds and drink more beer—which was all to the good as I was operating on only four hours sleep from the night before and nappy time beckoned.

The Grizzled card examples
On a poignant note, Tignous, the artist who designed the cards for The Grizzled, worked for Charlie Hebdo and was killed in the terrorist attack on the magazine on January 7, 2015.

When I got home, I found a small package from Bicorne Miniatures waiting for me: reinforcements for my ECW that I'm painting for The Pikeman's Lament. I got some English musketeers ramming a charge and fumbling with their cartridges, some Scots Covenanters ramming a charge, and a command group. There was another package from Bicorne, too, but it required my signature, so the post office is graciously hosting it until I come and sign for it on Monday. It's odd that one package required a signature and another didn't. The one that did has the ECW cavalry and artillery I ordered.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bogtrotters: Timeline Miniatures 16th c. Irish

O happy day! My order from Timeline Miniatures arrived posthaste on Tuesday. These figures were formerly Monolith Designs/Graven Images, but are now owned and produced by Timeline. I have in my hot little hands the bulk of an Irish army for The Pikeman's Lament. As astute readers of this blog may recall, I ordered these on impulse as I awaited the release of The Pikeman's Lament rules from Osprey.

The order was shipped with signature required, so I was glad to be working at home when the cat-scattering DING-DONG! of my doorbell sounded its arrival. It was a smallish package, but it weighed in at 0.942Kg (just over 2 pounds). Making sure not to drop it on my foot, I took it upstairs and opened the box.

I am not disappointed. The figures are classic Jim Bowen sculpts: hefty, exaggerated, but also streamlined and handsome with a sort of liquid quality to them. There's something about this style of sculpting that just hits the mark. I've seen a lot of finely detailed true-scale minis that left me flat. I think figures that work on the tabletop have the kind of exaggeration that the eye takes in and renders appropriate. They're more like caricatures or cartoons, but not in a grotesque or silly way; it's more the way that Wilma Flintstone comes off as sexy.

The figures are very well cast and come with no flash (not that I've detected).  Cleaning them is very easy, I only had to do a bit of cleanup on mold lines.

The figures are BIGbigger even than Renegade/Bicorne. On the Barrett Scale, they weigh in at a considerable 29H. That's a bit deceptive, because the Barret Scale rates only three grades of heft. These are more of an H+.  Compared to other 28mm ranges, they're immense.

L to R: The Assault Group, Renegade, Timeline/Monolith
For pure bulk, the chunky monks from the command pack give a Minié ball a run for its money.

Brother Conall prays and Brother Donall blesses the Holy Minié of Kilmuckie
I ordered one or more of every pack but two, I think.

Kern with pikes (pike upright)
These figures are all in a standard pose, but come with 12 head variants. The majority are bareheaded with four in helmets and three in hats. They all have the look of scruffy soap-dodgers recruited for a fight they can't win. One of them is a dead-ringer for Baldrick from Blackadder II.

I have a cunning pike, my lord
The pikes are held upright. I used North Star wire pikes, so players beware: impalement threatens. These figures will form a 12-figure unit of pikes. I'll probably get another unit of these guys to round out the retinue.

Timeline also offers Irish pike in a charge pike position as well. I have some ECW figures in this pose, which is quite nice and dramatic, but a bit awkward for gaming; you just can't get units in contact with 2 ½ to 3 inches of pike jutting out front.

Kern with javelins
These figures are posed casting a javelin. Like the pikemen, it's a standard pose, but with 12 head variants. Half are bare-headed, half have some sort of helmet or hat. The right hand is open and the figure comes with a cast metal javelin to put in it, but I'll use wire spears instead. They also have a separate target (to ward off English arquebus shot, no doubt). These will form 6-figure units. I have 12 now, but will get another 12 to have 4 units of kern. You can't have enough pestiferous javelin-tossing oiks in an Irish rebel force.

 Kern with arquebuses
There are multiple poses for these figures: standing shooting, crouching shooting, loading/ramming shot, and ready. There are also 12 head variants. The dress is mostly a traditional kern look gathered at the waist with loose flowing sleeves. They have the look of being the better sort of kern, the ones who can afford an arquebus and pants, although there are enough barefoot figures to make one think that the budget didn't stretch to shoes. I'll make a 12-figure unit of shot with these fellows.

Timeline also makes Irish arquebusiers in trews. I didn't buy a pack, but from the picture on Timeline's website, they're similar in dress to the kern pikemen. sporting a kind of jerkin and a mix of hats, helmets, and hair. If I add a second unit of shot, I'll go with these figures for it and possibly reconfigure the kern arquebusiers as two 6-figure commanded shot units.

Gallowglass (attacking)
These are the traditional mercs of Irish warlords, pretty much unchanged over the course of 200 years. There are six poses. All figures wield a nasty 2-handed axe; three figures also carry a large 2-handed sword on their back. The packs I got were in the attacking pose. There is another pack of gallowglass standing.

I'll use these figures to make a 12-figure unit of clansmen. This will also be the unit I'll attach my leader to. Since I don't have The Pikeman's Lament rules yet, I'm not sure what, if any, upgrades there are. I assume that clansmen are analogous to fierce foot in Lion Rampant, which give them no upgrades.

Irish command
This pack contains a well-harnessed Irish warlord with a piper, two monks, and two spear-armed kern in attendance. The warlord looks a formidable chap with an iron breastplate and morion. His right hand is separate. I used a bit of brass wire and a pin-vise to pin it on for added strength.

I love these figures! I first saw this range years ago when I was looking wistfully at the Monolith's Prehistoricalistic Europeanoids. I just didn't know what to do with them. Now that The Pikeman's Lament is almost here, I have the inspiration I need. I'll post further reviews and progress reports on this projects as I get some painted and based (using the 3-2-1 scheme).

After I complete the figures I bought, I'll order some more to complete the Irish army and then get some of the garrison troops from the same range to use as the English occupiers.

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.