Monday, July 4, 2022

Stranger things

The Stranger, long one of Seattle's more colorful weeklies (the other one being Seattle Weekly, which was never colorful at all) started publication in September, 1991, not long before I started working at Aldus Corporation in Seattle's Pioneer Square. At the time, it was something my crüe at Aldus was enamored of, in no small part because it was produced using our software, Aldus PageMaker.

I bring up The Stranger now because it has actual relevance to my hobby. As a weekly (as of 2017, a bi-weekly), it appealed mostly to lefties, who were far less clever and cool than they assumed, and non-lefties like me, who had no illusions about being clever or cool, but who enjoyed reading an irreverent perspective on life, despite the paper's otherwise stale, predictable Maoist orthodoxy about pretty much everything. Even the irreverence grew old after a while (or maybe so doctrinaire and conformist that it was no longer irreverent), but I still grabbed a copy (sometimes two) from the box every week/other week. It was free and it made perfect fish-wrap, bird-cage liner, or, in my case, table covering for when I spray painted stuff and did other messy hobby things that involved splats and spills.

In March, 2020, The Stranger ceased producing a print copy due to the general shut down of all things because of COVID. They expected to be back and printing after a while, but it never happened. I don't know if it ever will. So much of The Stranger's revenue came from ads for all the venues in Seattle where people gathered cheek to jowl to drink, play, listen to music, etc. With all that activity stifled, there was no point in advertising. No adverts, no income. No income, no print edition. No print edition, nothing for me to spill on. Now that gathering in close proximity has returned to The Emerald City, The Stranger remains online only. 

I had a stack going back years, but I'm almost at the end of it. At one time, I was throwing out stacks of it because I went through far less than one full edition a week and I assumed the supply would never end. Silly me. In no time, assuming I'm actually busy hobbying, I'll have nothing left. I feel a bit like sitting in a toilet stall and realizing there's no bog roll.

I'm not sure what to do. I can't use my hand. I haven't really looked for alternatives. I don't know if the Seattle Weekly is even around anymore—or if they have a print edition. I should probably start saving the newsprint advert thingummies that appear in my mailbox. They typically run several pages, which may be enough to go on with. They're not as big as a two-page spread from The Stranger, but probably every bit as absorbent. They're also free. Indeed, I can't seem to stop them from showing up.


To be fair, The Stranger had more going for it than irreverence and Maoist screed. It was a pretty good place to find out what was going on in the city. For the nine years that I lived in Seattle, it was useful for planning weekend activities. Since moving up to beautiful, formerly-bucolic Lynnwood, I've been less inclined to venture into the city—at least not deep into the city; I'm all over going to The Pacific Inn and Eltana Bagels in Fremont. I don't think I've been to Pioneer Square for more than a decade, certainly not since the viaduct was torn down. I can't recall when I was last on Capitol Hill or Queen Anne. However, my neighborhood Whole Foods had a Stranger box from which I drew my supply until it was empty and then they removed it. Sic transit gloria mundi.

1914 and all that

A few years back when Great Escape Games' 1914 rules came out, I bought a copy expecting that I'd use Peter Pig's 15mm WW1 minis for it. I've been interested in gaming the first months of WW1 for a long time now. 30+ years ago, I bought of copy of Fred Haube and Terry Sirk's self-published rules Great War.

I liked the rules and started painting Peter Pig minis for it, but it eventually fizzled. There was no one else interested and other projects drew me away—as is invariably true. I kept the rules for a long time until someone from Italy implored me to sell it to him. I did, for cheap. I figured I'd never use them and was happy to sell them if he wanted them so much. His biggest cost was the express postage to Italy (ouch, really, ouch). It's one of the few sales of my stuff that I've regretted. They're impossible to find now, but I know of someone in Italy who has a copy.

Getting back to 1914, my partners in crime for this project were going to use the 12mm figures that are available from Great Escape Games and Kallistra. That soured me on it. 12mm is an odd scale (it's actually N-Gauge, I think) and I was set on 15mm. I eventually (apparently) sold or gave away the rules (or maybe not—at least I can't find them anywhere).

Rebirth of a project

Fast forward to Enfilade! 2022 in May. I was hosting a What a Tanker! game just opposite a seller who had a lot of Great Escape Games products for sale. I looked at some boxed 1914 minis (German jägers) and looked some more until I convinced myself to go for it. I figured they'd be quick to paint. I also bought a German brigade pack. And then I bought some German command tokens. I don't recall if he had the rules, but in any case, I assumed I still had my copy (and may still for all I know; the depths of Stately Chez Dave are murkier than one can imagine and like the bodies from old Vegas mob hits that are showing up as Lake Mead recedes, things you thought would never be found suddenly are).

After the convention, I ordered more minis (Germans and Belgians) and the rules (after several fruitless searches of the murkier parts of Stately Chez Dave in beautiful, formerly-bucolic Lynnwood) from Great Escape Games in the UK (not to be confused with any like-named stores in the US).

When I looked and looked at the minis at Enfilade!, I figured I could churn them out quickly because they require almost no detail at all. I originally thought of starting with an overall coat of the base uniform color (Howard Hue's Field Gray) and just daubing in the details followed by a wash. That's not quite how I did them, but near enough. They do paint quickly and after the first batch, I have it down to a science. I find that I can do the basic painting of a full unit in a day of intermittent painting, then a spritz of clear satin enamel, a wash with Army Painter Strong Tone, a spritz of Krylon Crystal Clear Matte, et voilá!

At first, I thought about cutting out plastic bases (my go-to for most projects), but then convinced myself to use Litko bases. I have a huge box of various unused Litko bases in my garage; it's quite scary. I expect they'll remain unused for a long time. I found several 25mm x 50mm bases, which is what the rules call for. I've used those for the infantry and dismounted cavalry. The Machine guns I've mounted on 25mm x 30mm bases; the models are a bit long and hang over the 25mm square base. The horsed cavalry I'm mounting on 30mm x 50mm bases. I want the extra depth, it just looks better and you can stagger the figures a bit more when you base them.

Basing saga

I needed more bases, so I ordered some 25mm x 50mm and 30mm x 50mm from Litko. I thought I'd have them quickly, but delays at Litko and my great nemesis FedEx intervened. Litko shipped the ordered after a two-week lead time. They were supposed to arrive 2-Day Air, which they did—at the facility in Everett, WA. FedEx kept saying they were out for delivery, but they never got delivered. My first clue of trouble was when the notice said the package would be delivered by 8:00 pm. When FedEx says they'll deliver by 8:00 pm, they mean "you'll get it when you get it, and maybe not even then." 

Long story short: I wound up picking them up on Saturday, four days after they were due to be delivered, at the FedEx facility, where I waited about 40 minutes until they found it in the deeper depths of the warehouse. Until I had them in hand, I didn't believe I ever would. 

I got home and immediately started basing my uhlans and brigade command stand. They'd been waiting so long for it.

The cast of characters expands

I mentioned partners in crime earlier. Mike Lombardy was one of them. He proceeded to work on a French army. The other partner in crime played the rules once and decided he didn't like them. That left Mike with a lot of Frenchmen and no one to fight. However, it turns out that Bill Stewart and Eric Donaldson also got the rules. However, rather than use the Great Escape Games (GEG) figures, they used Kallistra. They also decided to put five infantry figures on a base instead of the four called for in the rules. Since the number of figures on the base doesn't affect game play, it doesn't matter, only the base size does. I'm doing the same with the GEG figures, which requires buying extra packs; the standard battalion packs come with 16 figures and an MG; the cavalry regiments come with 12 figures (mounted and dismounted) and an MG.

Wanting a bit more variety in poses than the GEG figures provide, I thought I'd buy some Kallistra figures to mix in. Turns out they don't mix. The GEG figures are a bit taller and a bit bulkier. Think of them as 'heroic 12s', which it turns out, is basically classic, 'true' 15s. I haven't compared, but I've read online that GEG 12s compare very well in size to the old Minifigs 15mm line (which is apparently still available from Minifigs, but that's deceptive. I've found it impossible to get anything from Minfigs, so basically, not available.) 

Having bought a pile of Kallistra Germans and Belgians, but having nothing to do with them, I thought I'd reach out and get someone else hooked. Dave Schueler, Kevin Smyth, and I met to play a Mexican-American War game using Rebels and Patriots (much fun; I'll post eventually, maybe). I brought my Kallistra figs and left without them. That got Dave hooked.

I thought Kevin would be a shoe-in for this project. His grandfather was an Old Contemptible and served in the Royal Artillery from Mons to the end. (Just before the war, he transferred into the RA from the Royal Munster Fusiliers, who were badly mauled in their heroic rear-guard stand at Mons.)

However, Kevin remained aloof until just this weekend, when he bought an English force from GEG. He's planning on adding to it a battery of 4.5" howitzers from Kallistra because those are the guns his grandfather served. GEG only produces field guns and BIG guns like the British 8-inch howitzer (which didn't actually see service until 1915) and the German Big Bertha (I see a battery of those coming, eventually).

The medium-large guns like the 4.5" howitzer and the German 105 are sadly left out of GEG's product line.

Eric who is painting Russians, was feeling a bit over-matched by all of Bill's and my Germans, so I made an order to Kallistra and soon I'll be painting Russians too.

Progress so far

As I assumed, painting these minis is pretty quick, which is good because you need a lot of 'em. At this point, I have the following painted:

  • 40 x German line infantry (2 battalions)
  • 20 x German jägers (1 battalion)
  • 2 x German 77mm field guns (1 battery)
  • 16 x mounted/16 x dismounted German uhlans (1 regiment)
  • 1 x command stand
  • 7 x line infantry MGs
  • 2 x jäger MGs

I'm pretty happy with how they turned out. They look good if you don't look too closely. 

I still have four more infantry battalions, another battery, another command stand, and another cavalry regiment to go. Two of the infantry units are already in progress. I expect that within a week or so, I'll have the Germans done. The whole force, assuming I don't later expand, will be two brigades:

Infantry brigade (318 points)
  • 6 x infantry battalion
  • 6 x MGs
  • 1 x battery
Cavalry brigade (188 points)
  • 2 x cavalry regiment
  • 1 x jäger battalion (elite)
  • 3 x MGs
  • 1 x battery
Still to come are Belgians and Russians. Also, I'll post a review of the 1914 rules at some point as well as a review of the two figure ranges.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Mésaventure au Mexique

Kevin Smyth has had a large and growing pile of 28mm Maximilian in Mexico figures for decades. It started back sometime in the 90s(!) when we had a few Camerone Day gatherings where we ate roasted lamb and played games on (or near) the anniversary of Captain Danjou and his few French Foreign Legionnaires defending the hacienda against Colonel Milàn and his numerous Mexican troops on April 30, 1863.

Inspired by this, Kevin launched a whole Maximilian in Mexico project that grew and grew. He's run a few Camerone games with them as well as other scenarios using various rules (including some home-brew, if I'm not mistaken). With the onset of Dan Mersey and Michael Leck's Rebels and Patriots rules, it was inevitable that we'd get to playing Mexico Max with them.

Accordingly, Kevin ran a game on November 13 at his house down in Puyallup. He called it the Battle of Matehuala (based on an historical action), although as it turned out, calling it the Battle of ¡Mátalos! might have been more apt. The usual suspects were present: Bill Stewart, Michael Koznarsky, and Dave Schueler played the Mexican forces; Eric Donaldson and I played the French.

Kevin has blogged about the game here. Dave Schueler has blogged it here.

I commanded the forward French forces, deployed around a redoubt on a ridge. My deployment required me to have one unit in the redoubt with the other units being within 6" of it. I had three line infantry units (one veteran), a medium gun, and a light cavalry unit. Having a Frenchified mindset, my deployment for defense followed one guiding principle: J'attaque! In hindsight, I think that was perhaps a mistake. I may have been a bit too plein d'espoir for my own good. I put all my units except the light cavalry right out front on the ridge. Eric's and my task was actually to hold the town quite a way to my rear. I might have done better deploying behind the ridge and ready to make a beeline back to form up with Eric. However, the Mexicans got points for taking the redoubt and I couldn't countenance giving it up without un combat à mort

My feeling that the mort in question may be my own only came to me after I'd deployed and Bill started placing regular infantry and guns within 12" of my units exposed on the ridge. Add to that the fact that the Mexicans won the die roll for first activation and things looked grim. Comment dit-on "bugger" en français?

I survived (mostly) the storm of shot, shell, and minié balls unleashed upon me. I might have withdrawn at this point and joined forces with Eric's troops at and entering the town. But to retreat face à l'ennemi was too much disgrace to countenance. I replied to Bill's fire by standing firm and giving back a bit of my own—although I did commit to a fighting withdrawal on my right flank in the face of Michael's advance with what appeared to be every able-bodied armed man in Mexico heading straight at me.

In no time, the exchange of fire went against me. By turn three (maybe), I had lost the line infantry and gun on my left, my cavalry was skirmishing (badly) with Michael's horde, to their ultimate demise. Dave's cavalry was moving past my flank/rear to attack Eric. But the redoubt held!

I managed to beat back one direct assault after Bill's regulars took my gun, abandoned after the one remaining crewman ran off.

It wasn't enough to stop the tide, however. A few more shots against me and I was forced out of the redoubt and the lone survivor chose the better part of valor.

On my right, Michael's militia—three BIG units worth—continued advancing steadily. I tried to skirmish with my light cavalry, but had a few turns of failed activation with them. They were eventually shot to bits by Michael's troops. Thus, I was down to one line unit, slightly shot up. I fell back with that to join with Eric's line to my left.

Meanwhile, Dave's cavalry moved quickly against Eric's forces which had managed to enter the board without hesitation. 

Dave quickly charged Eric's unit of grenadiers with his Mexican lancers in what became a bit of a paseo de la muerte.

We probably flubbed adjudicating the first round of combat, which the Mexican lancers won in any case, but they may have done worse to the French grenadiers than we reckoned. Eric's grenadiers were merely pushed back in good order. In the immediate compulsory follow-up, Dave's cavalry failed and wound up routing out of existence. His other unit had taken one hit shy of being half strength and wisely withdrew out of range of Eric's cannon.

At this point, Eric still had an almost entirely intact command. Bill's command was mostly intact and advancing past the débris of my ridgeline defense. I had one surviving unit that was down to 10 figures. Michael had three BIG units of militia, which were intact, albeit green troops and poor shooters. Still, their quantity made up for their lack of quality. I ever so slightly thinned a couple of his units, but their morale held and they were still a long way from being anything near half strength.

At this point, we surveyed the field and determined that while Eric would likely be able to hold the town (our larger objective), the Mexicans were well ahead on points due to my over optimistically pugnacious défense á outrance. Sadly, points were not awarded pour la gloire.

At this point, we adjourned to Mssr. Smyth's salle à manger for hot dogs, chilli, beer, and conversation.

In the aftermath of the game, there was the traditional enthusiasm for buying more figures for the period. Fortunately, Foundry is having a big Christmas sale. Kevin has acquired (or will acquire whenever the order actually arrives) a significant reinforcement of troops for Maximilian in Mexico—not least among them the French Foreign Legion troops, including a Jean Danjou figure, which weren't available when he initially bought the figures back during the Clinton administration (first term, IIRC).

I was tempted, especially by the Foreign Legion, but have spent my money on more Mexicans from Boot Hill Miniatures. I have cavalry coming soon and expect to start ordering Texans in December.

Monday, November 8, 2021

¿Por qué no los dos?

So, a short while ago we got the ball rolling on a Mexican-American War project.

Since COVID and the closure of The Panzer Depot, my gaming group has gotten a bit tighter. We've weathered the chaos with gaming on Dave Schueler's lawn in warm weather, Kevin Smyth's garage in sub-freezing weather, Eric Donaldson's basement, and a few public venues like Zulu's Board Game Cafe in resplendently reborn Bothell, WA. In the aftermath of a Rebels and Patriots ACW game in September, I broached the question about a group project for the Texas Revolution of 1835-36 or the Mexican-American War of 1846-47. My question was really more of a "I'm doing Texas Revolution; who's in?" However, when the dust settled we were all on board with Mexican-American War. Baby blue uniforms were looming in my future.

Within a day, several of us had already ordered figures from 1st Corps Miniatures in the UK or Scale Creep Miniatures in Evanston, IL (US distributor for 1st Corps). I'm sure both were surprised to be deluged with several orders from from people in Western Washington. It's not an understatement to say that things escalated quickly.

My initial order to 1st Corps arrived within 10 days, which was similar for others. Other orders to Scale Creep took about four days to arrive. In no time we were swimming in lead.

This was my third attempt at a Mexican-American War project. The first one was in the 70s when there was no commercial range available except Scruby. I started converting Minfigs Napoleonics, which taxed my already short attention span and low commitment level, so it ended quickly—but not after a lot of filing to convert British stovepipe shakos to Mexican ones.

The second attempt was in the 90s and I used 1st Corps minis. It didn't get very far and my only remaining piece was El Supremo:

This is a better example of my pre-dippy days style. I was a slower painter then (much slower) and sustained projects often went nowhere. I've had my painted and based El Supremo sitting on a shelf for years with no one for him to command (¿Dónde están mis soldados?). I'll dust him off, touch him up, and then give him a dip so he matches my current style—and I'll have soldados for him to command.

The Mexican-American War

I ordered from 1st Corps on September 20 and received my first minis on October 5. I started out working on two units of US regulars, a 6 pdr. gun and crew, and two mounted officers. 

I also painted two cats for use on my command stand. They're painted (rather impressionistically) to be Tybalt and Maebh. They come from a pack of 28mm cats produced by Bad Squiddo in the UK.

Going back a way, I've added a cat or two (or four!) to various command stands. It started with an ECW officer. I figured if Rupert can have his dog, my man can have his cat(s). I also added cats to my ACW command stands for Jubal Tardee and Lt. Beauregard Lemieux. Now, I just can't stop myself. Sometime after I'm gone, assuming my minis survive me, some future owner will look at an officer stand and ask, "Why the hell is there a cat there?"

In addition to my regulars, gun, and officers—which are complete and only need to be based—I am nearly done with 24 US volunteers and 6 dragoons. Mere sloth has prevented their being done by now. I expect to have them dipped this week (as I expected it to have been so last week, so place any bets with caution).

I love the 1st Corps minis. I'm glad to have returned to a Mexican-American War project with them. I supplemented my 1st Corps order with a few smaller orders to Scale Creep, which helped me round out another 12 US regulars as well as a lot of Mexicans.

I have many packs of Mexicans to start on now. They're a little more challenging because they have all that piping 'n' stuff on their uniforms. Their shakos alone are a painting project within a project.

Eric Donaldson has completed his force of Americans with no plans to paint Mexicans as far as I know. Kevin Smyth has 2 units of US regulars and 4 units of Mexican line completed with more to come. He's blogged about it. I'm not sure where Dave Schueler and Bill Stewart are at. Both have minis to paint.

John Gee, an ardent fan of Mexican-American War gaming, has long had a large collection of figures (all old Minifigs, I believe), which he's rebased for Rebels and Patriots.

We're looking at maybe early in the new year for our first game. By then, we'll have enough figures painted among us to put a game together. The rules, of course, will be Rebels and Patriots.

So that's where we're at with the Mexican-American War project, but wait! There's more.

Texas Revolution

So, despite all the activity for the Mexican-American War, I always intended at some point to go back to my plans for the Texas Revolution. Between the two, I find the Texas Revolution to be more interesting. It's got a lot more drama to it and there seems to be more potential for interesting small-unit actions. The whole revolution was just a bunch of small-unit actions. I think, too, that the forces were more evenly matched. The revolution ended when Santa Anna was captured after San Jacinto, a victory won by means of a surprise attack. Because Santa Anna was both generalissimo and president of the republic, his capture and coerced cession of Texas ended the fight with strong Mexican forces still in the field. The Texas Revolution of 1835-36 might easily have ended as badly for the rebels as the rebellion of 1813.

I was planning to use the Old Glory range for Texas Revolution. I recall when they first came out. I even bought a pack or two (whose location in my garage of wonder and despair I have yet to ascertain). Overall, it's a good range, but I was concerned about their lack of dismounted cavalry and the fact that there are no Tejanos, despite their playing a key role on the Texian side.

On Saturday, Kevin, Dave, John, and I were partaking of our weekly Zoom 'n' Paint meeting. It's another of these COVID things that keeps us together. We started a Saturday night Zoom meeting where we all just sit at our painting tables Zoomed into our meeting and talk, paint, and share glimpses of our WIPs (yeah, I know that can be taken the wrong way). Dave mentioned that he'd seen the Boot Hill Miniatures site and was impressed by the figures. I wasn't aware that there were any other 28mm Texas Revolution ranges (at least not of any size) than the OG one. Looking at it later, I couldn't help myself but pitch in and order what I thought might be a small number of figures, but then grew. Postage pricing will do that. I hate to buy a small amount and pay big postage, so I feel compelled to buy bigger so the order is a bit more commensurate with the shipping cost.

Needless to say, I ordered because the figures look muy bueno. The sculptor is Matthew Bickley, who's done work for Foundry, Footsore, Warlord, Claymore, and Westfalia, among others. They're very animated and the range is extensive enough to cover all aspects, even those previously forgotten dismounted cavalry and Tejanos.

My "small" order focused on the Mexican army. I got some line infantry marching and command for the same.

And line infantry skirmishing.

I got some cazadores (skirmishers with British Baker rifles).

With command.

I got some dismounted Mexican officers.

I got a pack with a mounted colonel and the "governor," whom Nick Futter of Boot Hill says is really Santa Anna in civilian clothes as he was at the Alamo.

And finally, a pack of the Napoleon of the West himself in gloriously full uniform, mounted and on foot drinking café with his servant in attendance. 

I don't expect to see anything arrive from the UK until mid to late December.

My next order will likely be for Texians. There's a lot there. There are 6 packs of unique basic Texian types, 2 command packs, several packs that contain mounted and dismounted versions of historical characters, 3 packs of mounted and dismounted vaqueros (who can be used as Tejanos), plus a pack of dismounted Tejanos, US Army deserters, Tennesseans (with Davey), New Orleans Greys, Alabama Red Rovers, and the Gonzales cannon on its ungainly carriage. Nick says other artillery is coming.

So rather than be faced with a one or the other proposition, I answer the question, "¿Por qué no los dos?" with "¡Sí, por supuesto los dos!" I'm not sure whether or not I'll be doing this project alone. Eric commented on how nice the figures look. I can see his mind turning. He might yet jump on board. After all, he's finished his Americans. 

I'm not sure who else will follow, but I expect it to be a going concern like my Irish Project that grew and grew, even though I'm its only participant.