Sunday, August 31, 2008

Base-ic Instinct

I am a rebel, an outcast, a dangerous radical with views no decent human would hold. On the Group W bench of wargaming, I am the one that others move away from. Why? Because I believe that the WRG-DBx-FoG standard base sizes for 25/28mm ancients are too small. Way too small. Absurdly. Ridiculously. Small.

I have made a nuisance of myself on various newsgroups as I proclaim the good news that we ancients gamers can be set free from cramming big figures on little bases; set free from using one or two fewer figures on a base just to get any to fit; set free from cantering cavalry figures at an angle on the base to keep them from hanging out front and back; set free from having armies that look like 50s-era college kids stuffing themselves in phone booths and Volkswagens. But I go disregarded, despised, and derided. A prophet has no honor in his own country.

The base sizes for WRG ancients, on which the later rules were based, were essentially set back in 1969 when the 1st edition rules were published. Both 1st and 2nd edition rules used inches for the base sizes. It wasn't until 3rd edition were released in 1971 that the measurements were converted to millimeters and the final category, light-medium and light-heavy infantry, were added. WRG described a frontage per figure, but really, the 3rd edition basing took a 60mm frontage as its basis. On this frontage, you could fit four close order troops, three loose order troops, or two open order troops; thus 15mm, 20mm, or 30mm per figure. In the WRG rules, that made a difference because combat was resolved by how many figures were in contact. So, on average, close order troops would have twice the men in contact as open order troops.

The figures available at the time were small compared to today's offerings. Scruby, Greenwood & Ball, Minifigs, Hinchliffe, and Lamming were the main manufacturers. Officially, the scale was 25mm, which meant that from top to bottom, the figure measured 25mm. It was a loose scale and there was a lot of variety of actual size within it. For example, Ral Partha Miniatures, which came out in 1975, were "true" 25s and looked smaller than most. Partially, this was because Ral Partha were more proportional, which made them look less chubby and trollish that others. In any case, the figures current at the time fit the bases, even if tightly so in some cases. The newer ranges blew all that away.

Dixon miniatures were the first in my experience that really exhibited "scale creep." Marketed as 25mm figures, Dixon were a bit bigger and chunkier than other ranges. Throughout the 1990s, newer ranges came out that only increased the degree of scale creep until someone finally put away pretense and started calling them 28mm figures (or "heroic" 25s). But don't think of it as a mere 3mm difference--especially because most 28mm figures are really 30mm figures. Comparing the A and A Miniatures I used for my 3rd c. Romans to Minifigs figures of the 1970s is like comparing well-fed grown men to children.

The upshot is that the figures no longer fit the official base sizes. This has become a nearly religious war for some in the gaming community. There are several "flat-earthers" who see no problem with the old base sizes and will not accept any official--or unofficial--change, even as they resort to increasingly absurd expedients to fit newer figures on the old base sizes. The Warrior rules (a re-issue of WRG 7th edition ancients) offer an alternative larger basing for 28mm figures, but I don't see that it's caught on.

When Kevin Smyth and I did our WRG 6th edition project, we simply doubled the size of the DBA/DBM element bases. Doing this changed the basis from a 60mm frontage to 80mm, thus 20mm, 26.666mm, or 40mm per figure. The base depths also changed to 30mm for close order infantry, 40mm for loose and open order infantry, and 60mm for all mounted.

This new basing accomplished what are, in my opinion, the main reasons to base figures: Comfortably accommodating the number of figures required by the rules, protecting the figures on the base, and providing an aesthetic complement to the painted figures (many an ugly paint job is rectified, or at least mitigated, by a nice-looking base). The following pictures provide examples of figures based on the larger bases compared to the size of the standard base.

Close order infantry: 80mm x 30mm (20mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 20mm (15mm per figure)

Loose order infantry: 80mm x 40mm (26.666mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 30mm (20mm per figure)

Open order infantry: 80mm x 40mm (40mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 30mm (30mm per figure)

Close order cavalry: 80mm x 60mm (20mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 40mm (15mm per figure)

Loose order cavalry: 80mm x 60mm (26.666mm per figure) compared to 60mm x 40mm (20mm per figure)

You might look at some of the pictures and think that you could fit the figures on smaller bases. True, but they would be cramped. This is especially true with close order troops. You can see this pretty clearly when you consider that the base size that would accommodate two close order infantry figures using the standard base size (30mm x 20mm) is the same size I use in the larger scale for one figure (20mm x 30mm):

I've adopted the larger basing for the 28mm Field of Glory (FoG) project I'm doing now. Other gamers are using the same bases and re-basing figures mounted for other systems (like Warhammer Ancient Battles and Crusader Rules).

What about that 26.666mm?

When I first determined the larger basing, I asked myself the same question. That is one odd base size to measure. If you're basing for WRG 7th edition, DBA, DBM, or FoG. you don't need to worry about it. When I adopted the new size, I was basing for WRG 6th edition, which meant that I needed at least one singly-mounted figure for casualty removal. However, I based for 6th edition using two figure bases maximum because it helps with formation changes, expansions, and contractions. This meant that my loose order figures required 53.333mm bases for two-figure bases; another oddity of size.

Enter Litko.

Before the WRG 6th project, I always cut my own bases out of 0.10" plastic card. It was a lot of work to score, cut, and prep all that plastic. Being pretty ham-fisted myself, I wasn't sure how I would be exact enough in my measurements. Even easy measurements came out a little off, so that the best of my bases is a rough quadrilateral with approximate dimensions. I had friends recommend Litko for some time. I e-mailed Ken and asked if he could cut bases to my sizes and he responded that he could cut custom bases to within 0.001mm. I was sold. I've never based with plastic since.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Me and WRG

I consider War Games Research Group (WRG) 5th edition ancients as the first "real" wargames rules I played. Back when I lived in San Jose, CA, there was a game store in nearby Campbell, CA called The Gametable. Long gone now, it was started in the mid-70s by three brothers: Larry, Michael, and Phil Duffield. A bit like Jack Scruby's Soldier Factory, which was then in San Luis Obispo, you could play games there on the tables they had set up throughout the store. The main table was a large 12' x 6' wooden behemoth where we played miniatures.

One of the main games we played was ancients and the rules that had the most support were the just-released WRG 5th edition. My first army was Han Chinese using 25mm Hinchliffe Models figures (I couldn't resist the convict javelinmen). We started a campaign run by Larry Duffield that was based on a map of ancient Greece. It had a little of the flavor of a boardgame called Source of the Nile. Each player had a "known" area they controlled. The area had specific resources that they used to build and supply their armies. Outside each known area was white space. In order to control more land and get more resources, we had to march our armies into terra incognita, search for resources, and take on any minor conflicts with the indigenous peoples. As the white space was filled in and empires clashed, we fought battles using the WRG rules.

The campaign flourished, faltered, and failed--as all wargame campaigns do--but the games went on. Wanting an army that was more like my personality, I decided on an Arab Conquest army. The army was made to attack, attack, attack and I liked that. It was all A-class fanatical warriors, which gave the units particular clout in an initial contact round of melee.

Our army lists were primitive. Unlike today, where lack of an official list leaves you in limbo, there really weren't any official lists. We tended to use the The Wargaming Guide to Tactical Ancient Armies book, which was published by Milgamex in 1977 for use with their Ancient Warfare rules, but any home-brewed list that had sources to support it was acceptable.

The final flourishing of my Arab Conquest army was its morphing into a Ghaznavid army. The key to this army was its two elephant units, each of four models, supported by triple-armed cavalry (bow, lance, javelins). This was my first competition army. In local play, they swept all before them, but in the big competition at an early Pacificon convention, they fell flat in game one. Still, they were a pleasure to play.

In 1981, I sold my armies and went off to ten years of academic pursuit. It wasn't until I moved from Chicago to Seattle in 1991 that I got back into miniature wargaming. By that time, the scene had changed. WRG 7th edition was struggling for survival. They were, in my opinion, a truly brilliant set of rules, but suffered from complexity and the inevitable ordeal of deciphering Barkerese. No one in Seattle wanted to touch them. Some played Tactica and later Armati, and there were a few people playing DBA, but none of these rules caught my imagination, so I bided my time with other gaming interests.

I finally got back into ancients when Paul Hannah started a DBA group in Seattle about six years ago. Even though I never considered it my ideal cup o' tea, DBA grew on me and I built several armies, played several games over the years, and contributed to the "total wanker" rating of a few of the armies (Old Saxons and Mitanni). From DBA I graduated to DBM because I liked the bigger armies and more in-depth approach to playing a game. I enjoyed DBM, too, but I always felt a little put off by its over-genericizing of the troop types. It just plain rankled that my Late Roman legionaries, clad in mail armor with large shields and armed with steel weapons, were almost functionally equivalent to butt-nekkid tribesmen with wooden clubs: Bd(O) versus Bd(F). Nevertheless, I played several tournaments and likely contributed to an overall decline in the standing of Late Roman armies (sorry, guys).

All through these years, I still pined for a game of WRG. I purchased sets of 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, and 7th edition rules on eBay. I also got all the published army lists for WRG 6th and 7th, and even found a used copy of the old Milgamex lists to supplement my badly deteriorated original copy. Eventually, in 2006 I decided to embark on a 28mm ancient project for WRG 6th edition. Fortunately, I had Kevin Smyth to join me in my folly. The enticement was the excellent 28mm range of 3rd century Romans produced by A and A Miniatures.

We opted for using larger bases and played on an 8' x 6' table. We didn't get a lot of games in before other projects pulled us away; however, I have a nice WRG ancients army for the first time in more than two and a half decades. It's not complete; I still have light cavalry to finish, a couple generals to add, and heavy infantry units to expand.

I'm now playing Field of Glory. I like these rules and I'm working to get broader play for them in the Seattle metro area. I can see a lot of the heritage of WRG ancients in them. I have toyed with rebasing my 3rd c. Romans for FoG, but I won't. I'm working on a 28mm Carthaginian army for FoG and plan on a Republican Roman army, too. But I'll keep the 3rd c. Romans as they are for the time when my WRG urge will strike again.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Griot's Garage

I took a step deeper into the waters of car-enthusiast geekdom yesterday with a trip down to Fife, WA to the retail store for Griot's Garage. Griot's is an international purveyor of car-cleaning supplies that staggers the imagination in some respects. For the enthusiast who pines throughout the week for a sunny Saturday so they can spend the weekend detailing their car, Griot's is nirvana.

The actual retail area of Griot's is quite small, but their back area is a warehouse of products as well as where they manuafacture some items. They host events all year round to demonstrate using their products. Car enthusiast groups gather there for vehicle-specific demos; for example, next weekend it's BMW M-class owners.

I went down with my friend Phil Bardsley in his BMW Z4 roadster. He found Griot's through a Z4 Web group. The group is international and he kept hearing Griot's products recommended. When he went to their Web site, he was happy to learn that they're local (well, 60 miles south of me--that's local enough).

My Nissan 350z has chrome wheels, black leather seats and trim, and stainless steel and vinyl interior. I try to keep it clean, but I'm a slug when it comes to cleaning cars. Stuff happens, an espresso spill here and there...

Also, despite the fact that my cats don't ride with me in the car, their hair seems to permeate the interior. I appear to be a carrier of cat hair that suddenly expels itself from my clothing the minute I turn the key to start the car. I can accept ingesting cat hair with my food, that's to be expected, but in my car it rankles a bit.

I typically go to the Rose Hill Car Wash in Kirkland, WA. Their full works wash costs about $20.00 and includes interior cleaning. They also have detailing services available at $150.00 for full interior/exterior detail. There are also other places. The Pro Sports Club in Bellevue, WA provides car washing/detailing services that can run up to $445.00 for a small car--of course that involves Q-Tips and hours of labor, but it's still almost half a thousand dollars for what amounts to a very fancy car wash. I think I need to train myself to do it on my own.

So there's Griot's. After browsing through the small retail space and picking this and that, I spent about $140.00 on products that I have to use myself, and that's just for interior cleaning products. I haven't even begun to look at serious exterior cleaning products like buffers and waxers.

Now here it is Sunday and I haven't tried a single product yet. I can excuse myself with the weather, which, after a glorious Saturday, is now gray and rainy. Again. Also, I don't really have the driveway space to do it right. My garage is a wee space that doesn't let me fully open my doors. My driveway is a bit tight, too. I've got shrubbery on one side and, if my neighbor parks his truck in his driveway--which he does--it's a bit close on that side, too.

But I'll tough it through. I may just get a reasonable detail job done on a yearly basis, but in between, I'll need to supply my own elbow grease.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Painting weather

As everyone who lives elsewhere knows, it rains all the time in Seattle. Those of us in this region know better. On Saturday, while my dice were redeeming themselves, the temperature was in the mid-80s and the humidity was high. If you're from Mississippi, that's a cold, arid spell. Up here in the Pacific Northleft, locals (i.e., me) just wilt.

Now we're back to our regular programming. It's down in the 60s, cloudy, and rainy. I can paint again. I've got the elephant to finish as well as the last bases of the scutarii. So, send not for whom the painting table calls, it calls for thee.

Stupido ergo sum

Back in June, I noticed in my online mortgage statement that I was getting a refund for overcharges on my monthly escrow payment. Oh boy, MAD MONEY! The amount to be refunded was $600.07 and I was told to expect it in early July. So, after about July 4, I checked the mail every day eagerly expecting my check. Each day was a disappointment: no check for you.

The days drew on into August. Long since then, I had resolved to call the mortgage bank and ask what was up, but, you know, I procrastinate. Finally, earlier this month I called and made arrangements to have another check sent. There was no record of the check being cashed, so they stopped it and issued a new one. Joy! MAD MONEY! Again. The new check arrived yesterday.

As you may have figured by now, I live with cats; they are very forgiving of my slothful housecleaning habits as long as the poo-boxes are clean. Mostly the problem is the vacuum-like nature of horizontal spaces. Everything winds up there; the cats don't nag (they wind up there, too). Occasionally, I go through stacks of mail to sort out things to toss and things to shred. I pay all my bills online, so I don't pay much attention to what comes in--unless I'm expecting something. The dining room table (I generally eat out, standing up, or sitting in front of the TV) is catch-all number 1.

While sorting today, down at the bottom of the pile of ignored mail, there it was. The check. The stopped check. The first check that I told the mortgage company had never arrived. It had come in late June, before I expected it and so under the radar. What a dope I am. Nevertheless, all is well that ends well. I have a check for $600.07 of MAD MONEY to cash and a clean dining table to boot.

This is just in time for some more Crusader Miniatures Carthaginians, Spanish, Celtiberians, and Numidians. Look for news of more painting...

Sunday, August 17, 2008

One hephalump coming up!

I hoped by now to be able to post about a completed Carthaginian elephant. I started it some weeks back, but progress slowed. I'm no further now than I was a week ago. The heat and a few days' illness stopped me from finishing. So, rather than finish it now, I'll post on how I haven't finished it.

It's a Crusader Miniatures model. Overall, it's OK, but I have a few nits to pick. I'm no expert, but I'm pretty sure it's not an African elephant, as I believe it should be for Carthaginians. Of course they may have imported Asian elephants from the Greek East, but Ptolomey IV's army at Raphia notably used the smaller African elephants against Antiochus III's larger Asians. I get the impression that when in Africa, use African elephants. The model looks quite big compared to the infantry manning the howdah, so my guess is that it's either modeled as an Asian elephant or an indiscriminate large pachyderm. As the following picture shows, it's definitely not an African.

Also, it has a howdah. As far as I know, no known image of a Carthaginian war elephant with a howdah exists and no description of them mentions whether the crew was mounted astride the back or in a howdah. The assumption, I think, has always been that the crew were more likely to have ridden astride--again assuming that the elephants are African and too small for a howdah. But who knows.

The model fit together mostly OK. Just a few points of disjoint. On Kevin Smyth's recommendation, I used two-part epoxy modeling compound to fill in the seams. This was especially important around the neck. Once primed and painted, the seams disappear.

I have just a bit more to do. By now, the elephant itself is painted and the howdah is mounted on top. I'm finishing the crew. After that I will apply the base coat of clear polyurethane, let that dry for a few days, dullcote it, and complete the last steps: flock the base and mount the crew in the howdah. I haven't tried yet, but I think it will be a tight fit (another of my nits). Also, the mahout looks like he'd fit better on a horse than an elephant. He won't seat properly, so I'll have to fudge it some way.

I hope to have the elephant completed this week and pictures of it posted. After that I need to complete a second one to finish the unit for my nascent Field of Glory Carthaginian army.

Dear dice, all is forgiven

On Saturday, I played Field of Glory (FoG) at The Game Matrix with Chris Rivers (son of Al). I used my Dominate Romans against his Early Achaemenid Persians. The game started with a miracle: I won the initiative roll. I chose "developed" as the terrain type and we wound up with a village and a plantation on my left and an enclosed field on my far right. Otherwise, the field was wide open, perfect ground for lots of cavalry.

Chris set up widely scattered across the width of the board. Having an army of mainly "shooty cavalry" including a lot of light horse, he wanted to be in position to harass my open flanks. His center consisted of his three heavy cavalry units, one of which was his elite guards, controlled by his inspired commander. In front of these were two units of bow-armed skirmishers. On his left, were two units of bow-armed light horse. On his right were three units of bow-armed light horse and his three medium foot units, including the vaunted Immortals, who were on his far right.

I set up using the plantation on my left as an anchor. I put the larger of my two auxilia palatina units in front of the plantation with the idea of running it into the rough terrain to hold it against all comers. To the right of that were my two units of legionarii, a unit of auxiliary bowmen, and the smaller of my auxilia palatina units. In the center were my heavy cavalry, the equites on the left and the equites catafractarii to their right. On my right, I put all the light horse: the equites Illyricani, the equites sagittarii, and the Hunnic mercenaries.

Chris started the game by using double-moves to get his skirmishers as far out as possible to engage me on my side of the table. On my right, I outnumbered his light horse with mine, so I turned the whole battleline towards his horse with the intent of smashing it. In the center, I advanced my heavy cavalry toward the skirmishing infantry that covered his cavalry. I figured they'd be a pestiferous nuisance and I wanted to chase them off as soon as possible. On my left, I moved the legionarii, bowmen, and auxilia steadily forward against Chris' light horse.

Chris' intention with these light horse was to try and plaster the legionarii with arrows and soften them up for his foot, or at least to render them ineffectual through cohesion loss. However, the shooting of the light horse was far from withering. I kept advancing or charging against the light horse and pushed them steadily back. In addition, my bowmen consistently put the hurt on one of his light horse units, rendering it pretty useless as a missile force.

Chris pressed his heavy cavalry into the center and his left, but without mutually supporting each other. He originally deployed them formed in a single rank so they could skirmish. This formation maximized his firepower and allowed him to evade with them, but made them less effective in close combat. One unit bore towards my light cavalry. This forced me to peel off the equites Illyricani to face them. Chris veered his elite guard cavalry towards my left and the remaining cavalry unit went up against my catafractarii.

On my right, the dice favored. In an exchange of shooting between his 10 bases of light horse and my 10 bases, I disrupted one of his units and later put it to a fragmented cohesion state with no loss to myself.

This forced Chris to move his now fragile light horse back in order to bolster its cohesion back to steady. His heavy cavalry had been aggressively forcing back my equites Illyricani and now, with his light horse retreating, I could move my equites sagittarii against the exposed rear of this cavalry.

In an exchange of missile fire, my 12 light horse managed to reduce his cohesion to disrupted without ill effect to themselves. The stage was now set for me to attack. I passed the test that let the Illyricani charge home against heavies and the sagittarii struck on the flank. In the ensuing impact and melee phases, I managed to reduce his cavalry to fragmented cohesion and eliminated one of his four bases, but at the cost of my Illyricani also being disrupted; however, they were later bolstered back to steady.

In the same turn, I charged Chris' elite guard cavalry with my equites and a unit of auxilia palatina. It was a bit of a gamble for me. My equites had been disrupted by the guard's bowfire and pitting medium foot against mounted is pretty brash. However, I counted on greater numbers to prevail; also, both my units were superior. Even with the points of advantage (POAs) against me, the auxilia did yeoman's service and inflicted serious pain on the guards. The equites also held steady. Even though reduced to fragmented cohesion status, they still meted out punishment.

Chris' problem was that, even though his quality was superior to mine by a notch, he had to split his combat between two units who together outnumbered him by more than 2:1. Because he was in a single rank and I was in double rank, in the melee I rolled twice as many dice at first until his losses reduced his dice further. In the final combat before the guards disintegrated, he was throwing one die against my seven. Still, my rolling was very good. The auxilia, needing 5's or 6's to hit, inflicted two or three hits each round out of four dice. The equites, although fragmented and reduced to two dice, still scored at least a hit each round and sometimes two. Although losing every round of melee, the guard cavalry never lost a cohesion step. Even after losing bases and taking catastrophic loss in a melee round, they still held on until they were reduced to one stand and auto-broken.

On my left came the only reverse of the day. Chris' intention was to run his Immortals against the my auxilia palatina in the plantation, smash them, and then turn my flank. He started by trying to reduce the auxilia's cohesion through bowfire--every single unit in Chris' army had bows. However, as with almost all of his bowfire in this game, the immortals couldn't do any damage at a distance, so he decided to close in. In the initial impact, I got a respectable four hits out of six dice rolled. However, Chris rolled six for six, an automatic stand loss for me. In the ensuing cohesion test, I failed by one and went down to disrupted. The bright side was that Chris failed his death roll and lost a stand himself. In the melee rounds that followed, the auxilia got beat up some more and soon broke. In a game of miserable dice rolling for Chris, all his luck focused on this one combat.

Although not entirely.

In the initial break move, the Immortals caught up with the auxilia and inflicted another stand loss. In the ensuing rout moves, I rolled 1's for my variable distance, which meant a rout move of only two inches. His attempts to pass a test to cease pursuing failed several times in succession and his victorious Immortals were drawn deeper toward my table edge and away from any effect on the other fighting.

The fight between my light horse and Chris' heavy cavalry on my right continued for several turns. Like the fight against his guard cavalry, I kept inflicting grievous loss, but the cavalry wouldn't break. Reduced to fragmented status and down to two bases, they still rolled boxcars for their cohesion test, the only roll that would have saved them from breaking.

Chris' attempt to turn his light horse back against my light horse as it was beating up his heavies was foiled by mu Huns. Extending them out to a single rank, I figured I would sacrifice them in order to hold off a rear attack that would disrupt my attempts to break his heavies. It didn't work as I thought. Chris' 10 stands of light horse, in two ranks, charged my Hun's single rank of four bases. My combat dice were split evenly between his two units. two dice against each, with 10 dice coming back at me. When the bones were done rolling, I had inflicted four hits against him to no hits back on me. In the ensuing melee round, Chris rolls continued to be pathetic.

In the center, my catafractarii continued to advance against Chris' remaining heavy cavalry unit. He opted for skirmishing and managed to cause a cohesion loss to the catafractarii. He finally decided to stand against a charge and, although disrupted, the catafractarii inflicted a base loss and cohesion loss against the heavies in the impact and melee rounds with no loss to themselves.

Eventually, the heavies my lights were fighting died the same turn the guard cavalry did. With two of his heavy cavalry units lost and the third dangerously on the ropes, Chris threw in the towel. He may well have fought and still inflicted some harm on me, but his only effective unit was his Immortals, who were off by my side of the table edge working their way back. The units I had fighting his heavy cavalry were now released to run roughshod over the light units that remained. His other two foot units were only protected medium foot with spears in the front rank and bows behind. They couldn't have held up against the legionarii and the best Chris could hope for was that the Immortals would get there in time to attack one legionarii unit from the rear.



I'm not sure how I might have deployed better than I did. I got the terrain I wanted, which allowed me to anchor my infantry on a secure flank and put all of my cavalry on one side. Chris outnumbered me in mounted units, but I managed to have the local superiority against him on my flank. The three light horse units that he used against my legionarii accomplished nothing. He would have done better to use his light foot skirmishers on that flank and release the light horse to operate against the cavalry in my center and right. The foot skirmishers would still have held up a rapid advance by the legionarii, and I would have been hard-pressed by the increased threat to my cavalry's flanks.

Chris was failed spectacularly by his dice while my dice were surprisingly good. Apparently, they don't hate me or my Romans--at least not consistently. As much as I carped about the six hits with six dice he scored against my auxilia, his failure to inflict a single hit with 10 dice against my Huns was disproportionately unfortunate.

As I mentioned above, every unit in Chris' army was armed with bows. It's the shootiest army I've ever faced. Nevertheless, he made almost no impact against me at all with his bowfire. I had only three units with bows and one with javelins out of 10 units total, but I did more damage to him with my fire than he did to me. That's due to better dice rolling on my shooting, better dice rolling on my cohesion tests, and poor rolling on his shooting and cohesion.

One other thing that worked in my favor was the support I worked between my units. The loss of his elite guard cavalry and the other heavy cavalry unit could not have happened if I didn't have two units to his one in each combat. Ironically, that lesson was drummed home to me in my game against his father. In that game, I was superior to Al in cavalry and yet lost badly in the combat because I failed to support my cavalry.

Monday, August 11, 2008

My cats are antiliterary

My reading has dropped off in the past few years and I've finally figured out that it's because of my cats. When I got the munchkins, I expected them to be selfish and aloof. Such is not the case. They are selfish, but they can't leave me alone. Everywhere I go in the house, the cats follow like ducklings. They hate my being engaged in doing nothing, which is what reading is to them.

If I sit, Rhiannon, sweetest cat on earth, must sit with me and snuggle. If I don't pet her, she rubs her face all over my hands and head-butts my legs. If I had four arms and two heads, I could hold the book and read while petting Rhiannanon and burbling embarrassingly inane things to her. As it is, the book gets put on hold until she settles down. After about five minutes of reading she gets up and goes nearby where she bides her time for another five to 10 minutes, and then she hops up next to me rubs my hands with her face and head-butts my legs. This cycle repeats all evening.

Grendel likes to sit nearby and look indignantly at me while I read. My principle crime at these times is not feeding him, which seems to be my raison d'ĂȘtre. I like to read in my leather recliner downstairs. I have a nice cherrywood chairside table next to it where I can put a glass of something potable to sip as I read. This is also Grendel's perch where he sits and intermittently mewls at me. After he gets no reaction he walks in circles around the chairside table always perilously close to tipping my drink. However graceful cats are reputed to be, I can tell you that they are just oafs with good PR. All the time he sits there, I'm distracted by the potential of a liquid disaster. Putting him off the table is like throwing a boomerang: back he comes with a vengeance.

Finally, there's Maebh. Maebh the Merciless. For some reason she can't resist the pasty white flesh of my legs that appears tantalizingly through the gaps in the recliner's foot rest. When I least suspect it, she infiltrates herself beneath the extended foot rest and then reaches up and grabs my legs. Her claws only make pin-pricks, no full-on slashes, but it's enough to bring any literary activity to a halt while I chase her out from beneath the foot rest. She'll come back to the attack several times in a night.

I've armed myself with a squirt gun to keep her at bay, but it's still a matter of constant vigilance.

The upshot is that I think I'm getting stupider. I keep buying books, but they get scant attention from me because I'm reduced to reading in bed, which lasts all of five minutes before I'm out.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Punic firepower (We will rock you)

Hot on the heels of the first two bases being completed for my Spanish scutarii, comes a complete unit of Balearic slingers, which is only impressive until you realize that it's only 12 figures--and easy figures at that. Still, it's something.

The figures are Crusader Miniatures, like all the rest of the Carthaginians I'm painting. However, I saw pictures of the Companion Miniatures range online and was very impressed. They looked like the business. 

Balearic slingers were some of the premiere mercenaries of the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC. Crusader, who market their figures as "Spanish slingers," designed them to look a lot like shepherds who've taken a break from abiding in their fields to lob rocks at someone. They've got their tunics, their bag o' rocks, a sling, and a small knifey thing at their waist; just a bit more military than Hillary Clinton (but not as menacing). 

The Companion Miniatures, on the other hand, bear a caetra (a wee shield) and carry a falcata in addition to their slings. They are much more as you'd expect buff BC mercs to look. This means that I may at some point transfer the allegiance of my just completed slingers to Rome and paint a new unit for Carthage using these figures. Field of Glory (FoG) rates these guys superior quality; they should look the part. Nevertheless, in a wikipedia article about the sling, the illustration of a Balearic slinger looks just about like the Crusader Minis.

In any case, I have my first complete unit painted for my Carthaginian FoG army. In fact, it's my first completed 28mm FoG unit at all.

Slingers are a fairly potent force for Punic War armies. The western Mediterranean didn't produce massed missile troops. The most typical skirmish weapon was the javelin. Roman velites, Italian states' skirmishers, Numidians, Gauls, and Spanish caetrati were armed with them. Even the Greek states used javelin-hurling peltasts as their main light infantry troop type. But the javelin lacks something in range, which the sling makes up for. Ancient sources, such as Xenophon, Strabo, Cassius Dio, and Vegetius, claim that a sling-shot outdistanced a bow-shot. Yigael Yadin claimed the same from the evdidence of Assyrian reliefs that showed bowmen in front and slingers to the rear. Nevertheless, most writers of ancients rules sets pretty much consistently give slings a shorter range than bows; FoG is no exception. Slings shoot 4 MUs (movement units of 1" or 25mm) while bows have an effective range of 4 MUs, but can shoot out to 6. Slings are otherwise as effective, or ineffective, as bows in FoG, but I'm not sure that this should be so.

In WRG 6th edition ancient rules, slings had better shooting values against armored targets; in some cases dramaticallty better. However, their maximum range was half that of bows (12" versus 24"), but unlike bows, they never suffered for long range, which bows did for any shot over 6". Also, WRG, gave staff-slings at 24" range. FoG doesn't consider the staff-sling as a separate weapon type and instead just lumps them in with slings. It's too bad; they should be separated and given a longer range. FoG is a great set of rules, but I find myself scratching my head sometimes over a detail that strikes me as an oversight. This is one of them.

I have to admit that I'm something of a slingophile. I just like 'em. Every time an army list gives me a chance in to use slingers, I will. I painted these fellows with plain tunics, though with a variety of colors. No units in an ancients army has any business looking uniform. I like how they turned out, except that the faces, as usual, aren't what I want them to be. The eyes are a little bit like what you see in Japanese anime.

I just hope these fellows don't fail miserably in their first game and get forever cursed. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Scutarii first fruits: A tale of two bases

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I completed the first 10 figures of the Spanish mercenary scutarii unit for my nascent Field of Glory Carthaginian army. Since the basing I'm using calls for four on a base, I've still got two odd men out, but the other eight are fully based and ready to rock and roll.

I used 80mm x 40mm Litko bases (3mm thick) with a magnetic base stuck on underneath. Litko bases are a godsend. They are cut precisely to size within 0.0001mm. I used to manage all kinds of quadrilateral shapes when I was cutting bases out of plastic. I even managed to trim off bits of thumb as well. Litko is a vast improvement.

I glue the figures to the base using superglue, partly because it does a great job binding the wood and metal, but mostly because it inhibits me from ever rebasing (on which more in a later post). After this I slather on a coat of Golden's good ol' coarse pumice gel medium. I apply it with a medium sized palette knife. I always make sure that there is a little bit of the medium overhanging the base so when I trim it later, there's a nice edge. I let the gel medium  dry overnight. If I get too eager, I wind up ruining things.

Once the medium is dry, I trim the edges with an X-Acto knife to get a nice clean look to the base. I paint the base coat on the medium using watered down Mud Brown from the Vallejo Air line of paints. Ater that dries, I dry brush some Howard Hues Colonial Khaki to bring out the highlights of the rough surface.

Now I attach a few rocks. I like the look of them on an individual base because it adds character like a vignette. However, too many per base and the unit, once complete, looks like it's straggling into combat through a boulder field. I use the model railrod talus produced by Woodland Scenics. They come in four grades. For these bases I used the coarse grade, but I will likely mix in some extra coarse and medium as well on other bases. The trick with them is to file down the side you'll attach to the base. This makes it look like the rock is partially buried in the earth, which is natural. Speaking of which, I use the natural color of the rock. I can stain it any color I want because the shade is neutral. For these bases, I applied a very thin wash of Vallejo Desert Yellow, just enough to settle into the crevasses and create a textured hue.

Once the rocks are on and stained with the wash, I apply multiple coats of Woodland Scenics turf. I used two coats of Blended Earth turf. I allow several hours between the coats; preferably drying overnight. I use Mod Podge, which you can get in craft stores, to glue on the scenic turf. It dries slowly and maximizes "stick." The first coat is straight out of the bottle. The second coat is watered down and daubed over the turf from the first coat. The two coats add depth to the texture of the base. In some cases, I've added three or even four coats to get the look I want. Finally, I topped off the base with patches of coarse turf. I'm pretty happy with the result.

Painting the figures was pretty straightforward. The sources I read, spoke of off-white tunics with magenta trim. Some few of the sources said it was a national costume. I did a few off white, using Howard Hues Linen, with various colors of trim, but I prefer a more varied array of color for the infantry. I don't want uniform unitl I get to the 17th century.

I painted the shields my self, but I got the inspiration from the Little Big Men Designs shields. LBM decals are very nice, but I feel like I'm cheating if I don't paint my own shields. 

Finally, the faces look a bit better than lipstick on a pig. This is a cruelly close picture of one of the best results, but no one truly wants to face his day with this mug. 

Fortunately, the figures are smaller in real life and most of the gamers I play with are older and have poor vision. 

Now I have the remaining 14 figures, which I've started. I'll finish six first and get another two bases complete (along with the orphans from my first batch), and then finish with the remaining eight. I think this scheme of painting in bits rather than attempting to do battery painting on all 24 figures at once is working.

Monday, August 4, 2008

Appetite-that-walks: Meet Grendel

Grendel is my first cat. Shortly after I moved into my townhome in 2006, I was wandering the Greenwood neighborhood of Seattle looking for the fossil shop I knew had been there once. I wanted some cool fossil bookends for the new place, but I discovered that the shop was long gone and a Greek deli mocked me from its former location.

However, across the street was a new sight: PAWS Cat City with a bundle of kittens playing in the window. Suddenly, like an epiphany, it struck me: I will get a brace of kittens to shred my new furniture and poop all over my new carpets! But Cat City was closing for the day. Undeterred, I came back the next day to get my kittens, but there were none to be had. The kittens in the window were mostly spoken for and the one kitten available didn't seem to like me. 

As I sat in the kitten room wondering where to look next, I heard a pitiful, persistent mewling from somewhere else in the place. Curious, I asked who was making all that noise. The cat wrangler on duty showed me to a cage where "Oreo" was kept. He'd come to Cat City from the PAWS main site in Lynnwood, but the staff determined after a day that he didn't like other cats and was not settling into the colony well, so they put him by himself in one of the cages, which, of course, he didn't like at all. When I came up to the cage, he looked at me with his big yellow eyes and extended his paw to me through the bars of the cage. That did it. I made an appointment to come back next day to visit with him and possibly adopt.

"Oreo" was two years old and had recently been surrendered by his family because they thought he was too expensive to keep. They had gotten him from someone with a box of kittens sitting outside a Safeway store. After being neutered and fostered for a while because of a URI, he was on the block, so to speak, and eking out his days in a two-foot by three-foot steel cage until someone adopted him.

When I came next day, he was already in the visiting room waiting for me, fast asleep. When I came in, he pretty much ignored me. He didn't want to play, he was indifferent to my petting and scratching him, and he definitely didn't want to sit on my lap and purr. But I liked him anyway and decided to adopt him. Not knowing how to proceed, I waited for someone on staff to came by, which took some time--or maybe time just moves slowly when you're being ignored by a cat. Eventually I popped my head out of the room and said, "I'll take him."

Visiting with him didn't give me a perspective on his size. I hadn't had a cat since I was young and I figured all cats were basically cat-sized and this was no exception. When the staff person and I were getting him ready to go, I looked at his paperwork and commented about his listed weight, 17 pounds. The staffer said that was impossible, but after he'd picked him up, and nearly suffered a hernia, he agreed that this was a deceptively heavy cat. Also, when we tried to put him in one of the cardboard box cat carriers, we discovered that he was also deceptively large and that one size of cat carrier does not fit all. I had to borrow a larger plastic and metal carrier to get him home.

It was about a 16-mile drive home and he mewled all the way. I marveled how a cat this big could have such a tiny voice. I still marvel. When we got home, he settled right in like he was the lord of the manor. He walked all around mewling his heart out as he explored every nook and cranny and then jumped up on the dining room table and lay down. 

I haven't been able to keep him off since.

I'd already decided on renaming him Grendel; I've always thought that Grendel was the perfect name for a cat. While not really monstrous, he is persistent about getting his way, especially when food is on the line. He can eat his own weight--now 21 pounds--at one sitting and not even burp. Any food left out is in danger and I have to stand guard at feeding times to prevent him from wolfing down his own food in seconds and then going after the other cats' meals. The kitchen counter is his turf; despite all my attempts to keep him off, he prowls it for any morsel that I may have inadvertently left out.

He is an open-minded greeter to everyone who comes to the house. While generally aloof, unless the visitor has food, he is very comfortable around strangers and has no issues with being picked up, petted, ootchy-kootchied, or anything else that people do to him. He's very accommodating. Mostly he finds a spot  in the middle of the room and stretches out on his back inviting any and all to rub his belly.

Grendel is serendipity. When I hear people talk about the trials of cat ownership, I'm very glad to have found such luck with my first feline and I blame the blossoming of my latent ailurophilia on him. Also, Cat City got it wrong; he's great with my other cats.

New books

I lazed about for most of the weekend. I painted a bit, read a bit, refereed between the cats, slept in late, took naps: in short, a great weekend. In one of my few forays outside of the house, I went to the Half Price Books in nearby Everett, WA for a bit of a browse. To my surprise, I found a very good used copy of Yann le Bohec's The Imperial Roman Army for a mere $14.95.

I've only browsed it so far and read the introduction. It looks like an informative read--not as ripping as a P.G. Wodehouse story, but lots of charts and other information that will surely make me smarter than my friends in regards to all things Roman army-ish. It will make a nice addition to the numerous Roman army books I already have.

Another nice find at Half Price was Duncan Campbell's Besieged: Siege warfare in the Ancient World. This book starts in the Achaemenid period and proceeds by periods through to the later Roman empire. It's actually a combination of four Osprey titles in one and well illustrated throughout, as one expects from Osprey (the same wonderful people who bring us Field of Glory).

Finally, on Saturday, my copy of Lost Battles: Reconstructing the Great Clashes of the Ancient World by Philip Sabin arrived from Amazon. I was browsing through older copies of The Slingshot last week, when I came across an article by Sabin where he mentions this book and his approach of examining ancient battles through "comparative dynamic modeling." I've only just started, so I can't say too much about it now, but I'm intrigued by the approach, which draws upon Sabin's wargaming background.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

She sang to her cats

I got the disturbing news yesterday that a co-worker of mine had been mudrered by her recently estranged husband, who then killed himself. I didn't know Melissa personally. My only connection was that we were both members of the same e-mail group at work, a group where we shared pictures, stories, and other information about our cats. Melissa was mostly a lurker on the group, but de-lurked from time to time. I have a picture she shared back in March of her husband with two of their cats. It's tragic and creepy to look at it now. He doesn't look evil, so how could he have done such an evil, selfish thing?

More recently, Melissa related how she sang to her four cats, Beau, Fuzzy, Little Bits, and Pandora, making up words to other songs for each of them. She said that, not having children, the way she treated her cats was her substitute mother instincts kicking in.

Her death was a tragic loss and a stupid, senseless waste. Only 36, she was a brilliant woman with a bright future. Rest in peace, Melissa.