Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Painting progress (and rambling)

I have completed 10 of the Spanish scutarii so far. I applied the last brush strokes when I came home from work tonight--after I feed the ravenous cats, of course. Now I need to give them a coat of clear acrylic sealer (the figures, not the cats) and then a coat or two of dullcote. Then I mount them on the bases. 

I use the excellent Litko bases. I was once a skeptic. I had my own system of using heavy sheet styrene for basing figures until one day I saw the light. I forget exactly how or when or why, but I tried the bases and was so impressed that I've never gone back. What I love most about Litko, apart from the high quality of their product, is that they can make bases of any size for you. For example, my last 28mm ancients project was a WRG 6th edition army using A and A Miniatures' outstanding 3rd century Romans. My friend Kevin Smyth (who blogs Northwest Historical Miniature Gamer) and I decided to use a base size for 28mm that is twice the size for 15mm figures. Because it was WRG 6th, I needed "spare change" and I also opted to base the figures on two-figure bases to get the full flexibility of the rules. This meant and 80mm base width for four close order, three loose order, or two open order figures. For the twos, I needed base widths like 26.666mm or 53.333mm. Litko did them. I could never go back.

Once the figures are mounted on the base, I terrain it using Golden coarse pumice gel medium that I get from a local craft/art store. It has a nice rough finish when dry that makes it ideal for drybrushing. I expect that my first two bases will be complete by week's end. Much of my painting and basing goes so slowly because the process just takes time. The processes that follow the last brush strokes on the figures take as much time as painting.

In the meantime, I purchased a two packs of Crusader Spanish slingers, which I have already cleaned, washed, primed, and started painting. I'm doing the skin and faces now. I hate painitng faces; I rarely get them right. This came out OK:

It's an Old Glory figure, which I find easier to paint because they lack the fine detail in the face that you have to paint around. The Crusader figures have finely detailed eyes, which just drive me nuts. I've seen so many recommendations for painting faces like a pro. They drive me nuts, too. I've learned much about painting from fellow gamers, but I really can't ever follow a specific procedure. Whatever I do has to be my own way, adapted maybe, but eventually evolved into my own style.

I still need to clean the remaining 14 figures for the scutarii. I expect that by the time I finish the slingers, I'll have them cleaned, washed, primed, and ready to go.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Enduring the morale outrage of my cats

I feed my cats twice a day. Breakfast is as far past 4:00 AM as I can hold out. Dinner is the very minute I get home at night or as far past 2:00 PM as I can hold out if I'm home. In the evening, they get treats. These events comprise the Three Crises of every day. Until each crisis is met and resolved in turn, the day is turmoil. The trouble with having three crises is that cats can't count.

I showed great moral fiber this morning by holding out until 5:00 AM. After the feeding, it was straight back to bed. Crisis 1 resolved. In the afternoon, I avoided the 2:00 PM feeding anxiety crisis by taking a nap shut up in my bedroom. I got up and feed the munchkins at about 3:30. Crisis 2 was behind me. Crisis 3 was resolved casually at about 6:45 when the cats got treats.

Now, the cats gather around me and stare. The look on Grendel's face resembles that of a waiter who's just been stiffed for a tip. Grendel is a stomach with four legs. 21 pounds of pure appetite. He and his two girlfriends, Rhiannon and Maebh, seem to think that they are due something from the kitchen. I'm not sure if the resolution of Crisis 3 was lost on them, but every time I walk downstairs, they run to the kitchen and look up where the treats jar is.

I have no choice but to endure their morale outrage at not giving them more treats tonight. I won't be bullied. I will, however, sleep with one eye open. They furballs can't count, but they know that revenge is a dish best served when Dave is fast asleep.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

My dice hate Romans!

After last week's sorry showing in my Field of Glory game--for which I blame my dice--I wasn't too sure what to expect from said dice when I played this Saturday. I used my Sassanids against a local player named Eric, who used my Dominate Romans. We used the same dice, my very cool, and sort of expensive, Ancient Dice

I've amassed 14 of them and use them for playing Field of Glory, which qualifies in my book as a "bucket o' dice" game. You may find yourself throwing 14--or more--dice in a single combat.

The upshot is that I rolled well with these dice and Eric rolled poorly with them. So, my suspicion about last week's game is correct, the dice were to blame. Except that that don't hate me, they hate my Romans. I might feel good about that, but I plan to play with the Romans often. I need better dice mojo or, heave forbid, different dice.

Today's game was played on a very busy field. Eric won the initiative and chose to fight on woodlands. The area was choked with four forest areas, two scrub areas, and two gentle hills. The forests were off to the sides, which narrowed the center area. That's what Eric was hoping for, but there were gaps in the forest areas on my right. I deployed my light horse archers followed by two units of asavaran (Sassanid heavy cavalry with bows, a.k.a. "shooty" cavalry). I ran my horse archers through the gap on turn one and in Eric's second turn, he charged them with twice my numbers of light cavalry. In an amazing display of dice-fu, I beat both of them thanks to my good rolling and Eric's lamentablty poor rolling. By turn 3, both Eric's light horse units were routing off the field and my horse archers and the shooty cavalry were advancing against Eric's wide open flank.

On the other side of the woods, I moved another unit of asavaran up against Eric's equites, backed by my cataphracts. I got one shot at him that caused his cohesion to go down one level. After that he charged into me, but again, I had the better rolls and in a few rounds of combat, he was routing off the field, chased by one of his generals unsuccessfully trying to rally them.

On my left, Eric had advanced his bowmen and a unit of Huns against my daylami infantry and elephants. After a few turns of ineffective shooting, I charged his Huns with my daylami and his bowmen with my elephants. All the advantages were on my side. Eric chose to stand with his Huns rather than evade, a.k.a., skedaddle. In the initial impact, the daylami put the hurt on the Huns, but the elephants and bowmen came to a draw. As the melee continued next round, the Daylami broke the Huns, but the bowmen killed the elephants, my first dice failure in the game. 

In the center, I advanced cautiously, but I wasn't going to get my remaining asavaran entangled with Eric's legionarii and catafractarii (yes, the legendary ones). However, I did advance my cataphracts against the auxilia palatina (superior medium infantry) that was at the left end of Eric's center. Eric moved the other auxilia palatina unit up on a hill to hold off the four units I had coming at his open flank.

I moved up against Eric's auxilia on the hill with all my shooty cavalry and started a devastating barrage against him. He lost a base in the unit and went down a cohesion level. On my left, Eric's super bowmen, flush with √©lan from killing my elephants, decided to take on the horde of levy scum that made up the last line in my array. He first tried to shoot them, but he wasn't successful in inflicting enough hits. They're a execrable mob, but they can absorb a lot of arrows before it hurts. So he decided to do the next best thing and charge them. Maybe he thought his bowmen were all like Legolas from Lord of the Rings.

Alas for him, they weren't. After a couple turns of drawn combats, the horde finally hit back hard, mostly due to superior numbers, but also due to superior protection. His bowmen were fragmented and destined soon for destruction.

On my right, Eric feared that he would be shot to pieces by my asavaran and horse archers, so he charged down the hill at them. In a few rounds of fighting, the auxilia palatina were crushed. Just next to them, my cataphracts broke the other auxilia palatina unit. That was game.

In the center, Eric finally got his catfractarii and legionarii into action, to my dismay, but they were too late to save him. He had only two steady units left. Four had routed off the field, another one had just broken, another two were fragmented, and a eighth was disrupted. For my part, I lost the elephants, always a hit-or-miss proposition in FoG, and had two units fragmented (nearly routed) in the center.

The biggest factor for Eric was the initial combats on my right. Poor luck on his part and good luck on mine settled the issue. With his flank blown out, it was just a matter of time...

Monday, July 21, 2008

New painting project: Spanish scutarii

The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA carries a sinfully tempting amount of 28mm miniatures. I game there pretty regularly and often stop by on my way home from work. Every time I'm there, I hear the crude come-ons from the display racks testing my moral resolve not to get sucked into new projects that I will start and then abandon before I complete them.

Alas. This Saturday I gave in. I bought four packs of Crusader Miniatures 28mm Spanish scutarii. I couldn't resist. They had that ineffable something that draws you in until before you know it, you're walking out with a bagful of lead. Mea maxima culpa.

I'd been mulling over a 28mm Field of Glory project and the Punic Wars have always been an appealing period to game. It's got elephants! I already have some Crusader mid-republican Romans (no, they're not painted--yet) and I wanted to get figures to start a Carthaginian battle group. Spanish seemed like just the trick.

Now I have to plan a painting regimen that will get the figures painted and leave me wanting to paint more. I have always tried to paint whole units at a time and it doesn't seem to succeed. Painting a few figures at a time, maybe no more than six or eight, provides the kind of success in completing figures that fosters more painting. So here I go.

I cleaned eight figures on Saturday night. On Sunday, I glued spears and javelins into the hands of figures that have them, then Sunday afternoon I primed the lot using my favorite primer: Krylon white spray primer. For spears and javelins I used the excellent wire spears from North Star military miniatures. These are great, albeit pricey, little spears. The 40mm long ones are thinner and are ideal for javelins in 28mm scale. I cut them down to about 30mm. I used the 100mm spears for the Spanish throwing spear (whatever it's called). I cut them down to about 30mm also. They're sharper than the dickens, so there will be blood. I used to hammer out, cut,  and file spears from brass wire. It was not fun, but the spears were OK and were were worth the effort if the other option was using someone's cast lead spear (i.e., metal spaghetti) or having the spearman look like he's armed with a broom handle.

Just this evening, I put on the base coat for the flesh tones. Long ago, i.e., when Nixon was still in office, I picked up the advice from the legendary Shepherd Paine (he wrote all those great guides to Monogram models) to paint figures from the skin out. So I always start with the skin and faces. My base coat is Howard Hues Ruddy Flesh. Then I paint detail for the face (like the eyes) and give all the exposed skin areas a wash with Ceramcote raw sienna, much watered-down with a drop or two of Liquitex Flo-aid. When the wash dries, the skin has a nice tone and the wash settles into the contours to provide suitable shading.

At this point, I'm ahead of myself. I know I have the Osprey book I need when I'm in the hobby shop. Rome's Enemies (4): Spanish Armies was no exception. I confidently went to my bookshelf when I got home to research and plan how I would paint the tunics. Oops. Perhaps I mistook it for the Osprey volume on the Waffen SS armed auxiliary tea ladies. In any case, I don't have it. Soon I will have two: the one I just ordered from Amazon and the one I'll find on my bookshelf just after the one from Amazon arrives. I have Duncan Head's excellent Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars, but I'm looking for information that goes beyond white tunics with red trim. I'm also looking online for sources.

My hope, as I go forward, is that recording my progress on this blog will provide some accountability for staying on track with painting--unless I spend all the time blogging instead.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

I blame my dice

Today's Field of Glory (FoG) game was a fiasco from just after the start. I can own up to some poor generalship, but--honestly--my dice failed me miserably. We played at The Game Matrix in Lakewood, WA as part of the monthly "historical miniatures day" there.

The game was between my Dominate Romans (ca. 390 AD) and Al Rivers' Carthaginians (Hannibal in Italy ca. 218 BC). So, not an historical matchup. Al had a center of superior African spearmen upgraded with captured Roman armor. On his left were a Gallic warband, some Campanians, and a light foot unit of Numidian javelinmen. On his right was the cavalry and elephants.

My deployment was flawed from the start. I had a village in my deployment area about 1/4 of the way in from the right edge. I intended to use it as the anchor of my line, but I have no light foot in my army, and every other troop type is disordered in the village. So I deployed on both sides of the village and left some of my best units out of the fight. I had my legionaries and archers in the center:

On my left were the cavalry, except a unit of Huns, who were on the far right with the auxilia palatina. In the dead center of the line were my legendary catafractarii

However, they are only legendary because in my DBM playing days, they sucked rotten eggs in almost every game. The jury is still out about their performance in FoG. This game, as events will show, did nothing to polish their lustre.

The game started sort of well for me. My equites illyricani (light horsemen) were putting the smackdown on some Numidian light horse on my far left. The illyricani were "supported" by a unit of equites sagittarii (horse archers) on their right. Al charged in another unit of Numidians plus some heavy cavalry towards my sagittarii and I decided to evade rather than even try to stand. But this exposed my almost victorious illyricani to a flank attack by the Numidians and in short order the illyricani were running back to Illyrium.

The equites sagittarii made a brief stand against the victorious Numidians, but before long, they too were routing off the field. The only cavalry left were my equites (heavy cavalry) and the legendary catafractarii. It was looking grim. I moved the archers over to the right of my catafractarii and moved the equites over to counter the Carthaginian heavies. 

In a straight up fight, my heavies were crushed by their Carthaginian opponents. This left my left flank wide open. Al's Numidians and heavy cavalry were reforming for an attack on my center. Meanwhile, the elephants were coming up to meet my catafractarii. I was successful in getting my archers moved up against the elephants. After a couple turns firing, I managed to disrupt them. This made the fight between them and my catafractarii more even for me because the disruption of the elephants balanced out my disorder caused by facing the elephants. When the crunch came, my catafractarii were hit simultaneously by Al's elephants and a unit of heavy spearmen. In the initial impact, the catafractarii held on, but failed to do any damage to their opponents.

The catafractarii continued to hold until the game's end, although in a fragile state. The clash of heavy infantry lines in the center was initially a draw. The melee lasted a couple turns, but my penchant for rolling snake-eyes on my dice did me in. The right-hand unit of legionaries was at near-broken status, while the left-hand legionaries were broken.

On my right, I had advanced the larger of my two auxilia palatina units and it got it caught between Al's Gauls and Campanians. Attacked in the flank by the Campanians when they attempted to charge the Gauls, the auxilia was slowly ground down and in a state of near-rout. Meanwhile, Al's victorious Numidians and heavy cavalry were poised to strike at my exposed left flank.

That was game. Al lost two stands and had one or two units in disrupted status. I had four units broken and another two fragmented (almost broken). Technically, this was one attrition point shy of an official loss, but even my eternal optimism had to bow to the inevitability of destruction. There was nothing left to do but pick up the pieces as I viewed the carnage of lost units off to the side of the table (in Elysium?).

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Great Magazine!

I first heard about Ancient Warfare magazine on the Romanarmy.com Web site. Jasper Oorthuys, who is the site moderator, mentioned that he would be editing Ancient Warfare. At the time, I didn't want to commit to a full year subscription for about $70.00 plus shipping from Europe. Now, however, I can get it issue by issue from a local game store, The Panzer Depot, in Kirkland, WA. In a rapid cash expulsion moment, I bought the current issue plus all the available back issues, plus I went online to find other sources of the out-of-print issues. 

I am very happy with the magazine. It's not an in-depth scholarly publication, but the contributors have strong credentials as writers and historians with a specialty in the field. The illustrations are superb and are worth the $12.50 cost per issue alone.

I'm now committed to this subscription through The Panzer Depot, but have no buyer's remorse. I highly recommend the magazine to anyone who is interested in the ancients period (as you know from my earlier post that I am).

I've read through several of the articles in the issues I have with me and they are all very interesting, though it's sometimes obvious that English is not the first language of some of the writers. (Sometime syntax that is odd there appears.) Each issue is themed for a particular aspect of ancient warfare. For example, one issue was themed for the Roman conquest of Hispania from the Punic War to the time of complete subjugation during the reign of Augustus. Another issue (shown here) was devoted to light infantry and contained a terrific article by Ross Cowan on the lanciarii of the later empire. A future issue will be themed for the Ancient Near East. There is a lot to look forward to in coming issues.

My gun jammed!

I went shooting yesterday with my friend Phil. Every now and then, we go out on a Saturday for dim sum at Noble Court in Bellevue, WA and then down a few blocks to Wade's to shoot. I brought my Cimarron Arms .45 SAA and my Beretta Px4 Storm.

I fired 200 rounds from the Beretta and then switched to the .45. It's like night and day as far as recoil. The 9mm Beretta doesn't give much kick; the .45, shooting 260 grain LC rounds, lets you know you're shooting it. After 50 rounds in the .45 (all that I had left), I switched back to the Beretta. After 100 more rounds, I had a bullet that wouldn't seat in the chamber. I though it was just a misfeed, so I ejected it, fired the last rounds in the magazine, and then reinserted the misfed round into the magazine to try it again. This time it jammed solid and I haven't been able to extract it. Being a live round, I am loth to fiddle with it, which means I have to take it to a gunsmith this week. Darn.

My 9mm rounds are reloads, which so far have been very reliable. I can't say why the round misfed and jammed. The pistol was clean when I started firing.

I'm flummoxed about the .45 LC rounds, too. I use an HSM 260 gr. JHP round that I get from Surplus Ammo. com. I bought 250 rounds at a WAC gun show last year for a fairly cheap price. I shoot at an indoor range that requires all rounds to be jacketed (so no toxic leadsmoke). Most of the available ammo for .45 LC is cowboy action rounds (180 gr. lead cap). The HSM are harder to get because Surplus Ammo only carries them occasiaonally. I haven't found any gun dealer in the Seattle area that carries HSM, and ordering direct from HSM is a bit of a hassle.

I watched part of a game of Field of Glory yesterday. The game was between two new players and I kibitzed for a few turns. (Someone else was the official kibitzer.) Field of Glory (FoG) is the new new thing in ancients wargaming. I've played several games so far and am trying to get the ancients gamers in my area involved with regular play and, later, tournaments. FoG has revitalized ancients for me. It's a period I've always loved and my library is full of books on Greece, Rome, and the ancient Near East.

I cut my gaming teeth playing ancients and it has remained for me the most compelling era to game. Watching the game yesterday, an ersatz battle between Romans and Carthaginians, I couldn't help but feel happy that FoG had returned ancients gaming to an enjoyable pastime. I feel released from the dark night of DBM (De Bellis Multitudinus), which I played as the only option. FoG brings back the use of units (battlegroups) as the main tactical element. No more futzing around with single bases, no more cheese.

I will be posting more about FoG as events unfold.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

First salvo

I've wanted to blog for some time, but never got to it. I suppose I feared I had nothing to say--but that doesn't seem to faze most bloggers, so why shouldn't I pitch in with my own nonsense?

I live in the Pacific Northwest, Lynnwood, WA, to be exact, in a townhome with three annoying cats: Grendel, a large, 21-pound DSH, imperious, aloof, and inexorable when it comes to seeking food; Rhiannon, my sweet pea, a bob-tailed brown tabby shorthair who is simultaneously the sweetest and feistiest cat in the house; and Maebh, a fluffy-bottomed stumpy Manx, who is seven pounds of pure crazy. I do my best to show them who the alpha cat is in the house and they do their best to disabuse me of that idea. I have been a humanoid cat-minder unit for less than two years and I already feel like a seasoned veteran with the scars, scratched furniture, and stained rugs to prove it. They are, nevertheless, a delight.

My longest-lived hobby is miniature wargaming. I started painting and playing wargames with lead minis when Gerald Ford was president. Despite a long haitus for college and grad school, I'm still at it. However, the question, "do you still play with little men?" from family and old friends certainly gives the impression that it's not everyone's idea of a worthwhile hobby. I love it because it gives me a way to interact tangibly with my interest in military history, provides an artistic outlet, social interaction with fellow enthusiasts through games and involvement in a regional gaming organization, NHMGS, and a great deal of excitement and adventure, albeit of the Walter Mitty variety.

I am a long-time shooter, squash player, and for the last year, a Nissan 350z enthusiast. I have voted Republican since 1980. As my father tells it, my great-grandmother believed that the two keys to happiness in life were owning a gun and voting Republican; I have tried to live up to that. However, I am fairly cyncial about politics. Many politicos are the worst sort of people, and the best you can hope for from most is that they will do the least damage. As I blog henceforth to whenever, I will no doubt make comments, mostly asinine, about all these things and more.