Sunday, December 20, 2015

C'est Incroyable! C'est Manifique!

I dropped by The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA today where Steve Puffenberger ran a small Napoleonic game using the Black Powder rules.  The scenario was a small encounter in Spain. Two French brigades with some cavalry and artillery support attacked two smaller British brigades holding a small hill top town position. The British also had a supporting Spanish brigade coming up to their rear. Mark Serafin and I were the Frenchies, Steve and Ken Kissling were the Brits and Spanish.

At the outset, Mark and I viewed our chance of success as minimal. British troops in line holding a decent position are pretty secure and in Black Powder towns are nearly impregnable fortresses. Faced with the immovable object, we did not see our troops as anything like an irresistible force.

I had three légere battalions and two ligne battalions in mixed formation with skirmishers deployed forward. Facing me were Steve's two British line battalions, a battery of 9 pounders, and a rifle company.

Mark had four ligne battalions, a battery of horse guns, and a squadron of Hussars. We also had an 8-gun battery of divisional troops. Facing mark were Ken's three British line battalions with a squadron of light dragoons in reserve.

The game started with a small preliminary bombardment that managed to inflict casualties and disorder a couple of the British line—although that was't something we could take advantage of. Our first turn saw Mark and I both failing our first move attempts and the initiative passed to the Brits.

With turn 2 things started moving faster. Mark and I both managed to move up with all our units and start trading shots between our skirmishers and theirs. On my third turn, I decided to grasp the nettle and charge in with a légere battalion in colonne d'attaque against one of Steve's line units. Another léger battalion smacked into his battery, with the third battalion in support of the two in contact.

I gritted my teeth expecting the withering fire of Steve's British, but he wiffed the shot, rolling 1-1-1-2 for closing fire. My battalion attacking the battery was not so lucky. I took a hit and was disordered. However, I passed the break test and the combats proceeded.

I beat the line battalion just barely, but Steve rolled a '3' for his break test and bye-bye line battalion. The guns also lost the combat and were taken. Having expected the worst, I was suddenly in a commanding position, even though there were two unbroken British line battalions and a detachment of riflemen nearby.

At this point, Steve counterattacked with his remaining line battalion. My closing fire inflicted a casualty, and in the ensuing combat, Steve again lost and rolled low for his break test. The second of his line battalions was gone, only his riflemen remained and his brigade was broken.

Steve counterattacks!
Steve broken, Ken's flank exposed
On my next turn, I attempted to charge the flank of Ken's rightmost battalion, which was now exposed with the collapse of Steve's brigade. However, I failed to roll well enough on my command dice and didn't manage to contact.

At this point, Ken withdrew the battalion into the town before I could try to hit it again. Steve plinked away at one of my légere battalions, which I'd put into line, and managed to cause it to become shaken. Steve would keep at this unit, which remained shaken for the rest of the game, but always managed to pass its break tests.

Ken withdraws to the town
I still had four effective battalions, but I was afraid I'd just keep battering my head against the town. By this time, too, the Spanish brigade had come up, although Steve kept it back and out of trouble.

I charged into the town with one légere battalion and another in support and got shoved back. I tried again next turn and although I lost, I managed to stay in contact.

First assault
On my third attempt at the town, I managed to bring one of the ligne battalions into another face of the two, so I had 2-1 odds, plus more support from other units. In this final attack, the British lost and broke on their break test (they were at -3 for shaken and excess casualties).

Final assault

La ville est à nous!
On Mark's side of the board, he'd been skirmishing with Ken's other two battalions, one of which was in another two section. He'd managed to shoot the other one into a shaken state. With the loss of the one battalion in the town and another shaken, Ken's brigade was broken and the game was over. No one expected the Spanish to save the day. They were too few and too bad.

The game did not go at all as expected. I thought Mark and I would get shellacked on our attempt to take the position. Instead, much to our surprise, the British crumbled in just about 8 turns.

I'm sure the news made Wellington's stiff upper lip a bit stiffer.

I'd be remiss not to mention that this game saw the debut of my newly acquired vintage bakelite dice. I picked up 25 of them in a few purchases on eBay and Etsy. They're nicely yellowed and range from a kind of jaundiced putty to a deep butterscotch, which gives them character. A nice addition to my dice collection and—for this game at least—lucky.

Dipping Deeper

I've completed 31 figures using the "dip method" in just over a week, which includes 24+ hours for drying the dipped figures. I never had that kind of productivity before. Suddenly painting a lot of figures seems easy and I'm pleased with the results—almost more I am with my traditional, slow method.

The second batch of figures I did were some Thirty Years War officers and sergeants along with the two Renegade ECW test figures. All were in buff coats with riding boots and some kind of armor and sashes. As an experiment after my first batch, I wanted to use a gloss or satin coat pre-dip to see if the less toothy surface reduced the amount of "grime" that comes from the dip.

For the officers/sergeants I used Krylon polyurethane satin. I've used it before as a penultimate coat before the final dullcote. The polyurethane is a great protector of the painted figures. However, it's proven to be a bad pre-dip. It took a long time to dry. The can says that it dries in 15 minutes, but it still felt a bit tacky to the touch after 48 hours. It seemed to hold a lot of the stain rather than slough it off to the crevasses (more on that below).

Second batch of officers/sergeants - a bit darkish
The next batch was more musketeers and some drummers. For this batch I used Rust-Oleum satin enamel as the pre-dip. This turned out much better than the polyurethane and dried quickly hard and smooth.

I dipped both batches at the same time. The first thing I noticed is that the stain seemed to be more viscous than when I'd brushed it on the first figures I did. The can had been resealed well, I think, but it had sat in my cold, cold garage since I used it first. I'm no chemist, but it might be that the cold affects the viscosity of the stain. It seemed to flow and ooze less well than before and wicking/drawing off the excess with the brush didn't seem as effective.

The result is that these last figures had a bit more puddling and, for the polyurethane coated figures, a bit more of the stain stuck to the surface. However, I think the result was mostly good. I let the dipped figures dry for more about 35 hours and then gave a them a spritz of dullcote yesterday evening. With the sheen taken off, the colors came out nicely. Set side by side with the musketeers from the first batch, they don't appear to be different.

First and second batch musketeers side by side
To offset the viscosity problem with the stain, I'm keeping it indoors for the winter. I also transferred it from the can to an airtight mason jar. In resealing the can last time I discovered that my "tapping" the lid with a hammer to seat it fully was bending the can. I don't know my own strength apparently.

On the painting table are the first batch of 16 Imperialist pikemen which are just about ready to spray with the satin enamel for dipping later tonight. I've also got 8 artillerymen and three guns. And adding more clutter to my too cluttered painting table is a batch of 5 Renegade ECW pikemen, an officer, and an ensign. I like how well the two test figures turned out, so I'm going whole-hog on getting my batch of Renegade/Bicorne ECW painted for skirmish gaming.

ECW dullcoated and bases flocked
For now, I'll use the ECW for playing Smooth & Rifled from Dadi & Piombo. Eventually, I hope to use them for Dan Mersey's upcoming Pikeman's Lament, which is his pike 'n' shot variant for Lion Rampant. Alas, the wait will be a long one; Osprey won't publish it until late 2016 or early 2017(!).

I made another raid yesterday on the remnants of The Assault Group figures at The Panzer Depot. At 70% off, they're a great deal. I managed to get another 16 artillerymen from the ECW range (not at all distinguishable from Thirty Years War) as well as some more command figures and musketeers.

Also, in yesterday's mail arrived the two falconets I'd ordered earlier in the week from Old Glory. I already have two that I'm using a battalion guns for the 1672 French.

French falconette (old painting method)
They're very nice models and I want my big tercios to have some light gun support—two can play at this game, Gustavus Adolphus!

The transformative nature of this method kind of astounds me. Some gamers call it the "miracle dip" and I can see why. I spent so much time trying to get subtle shading and highlights in my figures and I look at my quick 'n' dirty dipped figures and like them better. Seeing the figures in macro photos, the smoothness of the shading in the dipped figures is much nicer than my awkward brush strokes. Viewed at table-top distance, my old method looked a lot like solid colors; you couldn't see the effects of the shading unless you looked closely. The dip looks good close and far.

Why, oh why, did I wait so long to join the dippy revolution?

My fear now is that Minwax will discontinue the Tudor stain color. It's already impossible to find in stores. I had to order my can from Amazon.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Dip It (Dip It Good)

I've become a devotee of the "dip method" for rapid army painting. I have seen the light and shan't be looking back. I know several gamers who are dippers. I've scrutinized their results and found them to be a delight to the eyes. But I've been hesitant to adopt it because it's such a departure from my traditional method. Old habits die hard, as the saying goes. I've also been reluctant to adopt a "quick 'n' dirty" method, simply because it seems like a cheat.

My traditional method developed over years with only incremental changes. It involves an intricate combination of highlighting, shading, and washing and can be painstakingly slow. As a result, my output over the years has been pitiful. I have many projects that are started but stalled. I have boxes of figures that have been cleaned and primed for painting—or partially painted—and then left to languish. Motivation is certainly a problem, no matter what painting method I use, but the knowledge that I'm facing a slow, painstaking process to get figures painted is no aid to motivation.

When I really concentrate on a figure, I'm very happy with the results. My test case for painting the stalled 1672 project is based on a Swedish uniform color from the Scanian War. It represents the best I can do with my traditional method, although for painting large numbers of figures, it's prohibitively slow, so the units I've already painted for the project use a bit more streamlined process.

Sätt i gång! (fire away!)
Note: The slightly bent musket is post-painting damage from when my evil cat Maebh the Merciless, batted it off the shelf and played floor hockey with it.

When I finally got to the point of trying the dip, I thought about a long-stalled batch of 12 Thirty Years War musketeers, a drummer, and an officer from The Assault Group range. These are beautifully sculpted figures and I wanted to do them justice with a great paint job, but after starting them, I shelved them for years because a) I'm lazy, and b) I didn't want to launch into a solo Thirty Years War project. However, a group of gamers down at The Panzer Depot have been working on a big communal TYW project, so my efforts can supplement that with a tercio or two. The time is right.

So what is the dip method? It's basically using Minwax Polyshades Tudor wood stain to do instant "miracle" shading on figures that are otherwise just blocked out in solid colors (i.e., not shaded or highlighted).

In my lead-up to dipping, I've thought a lot about the mechanics of it. While many dippers actually dip, most use a brush. Actually dipping the figure, apart from getting it all over your hands, requires a lot of flicking to get rid of the excess. Too much stain and you've got a discolored blob. Having watched Steve Puffenberger dip and flick a pile of figures, I decided that's too much work and would probably give me tennis elbow or something. So I opted for brushing.

The trick while painting for the dip is to refrain, despite all temptation, to do anything more than solid colors (although highlighting is up for reconsideration in some cases). That's what speeds it up.

The method also removes detailed face-painting from the process. What to do about faces has always been my downfall. For the dip, I just use my base coat of Howard's Hues Ruddy Flesh and leave it. No sepia wash and detailed eyes. Thank goodness. My hands have never been steady and I'm already using 3x magnifiers to paint with. Any method that produces satisfactory results without painting eyeballs on 28mm figures is OK by me.

Pre-dip blocked out in solid colors
After all the colors were blocked in for the figures, I gave them a spritz of dullcote as final prep for dipping. My impression was that at this point it was an OK paint job, pretty much as when I started painting minis 40 years ago.

With the figures ready to go, I still hestated. I thought of doing one figure and seeing whether I would just ruin it. But after a few days of hestitating, I bit the bullet and went into my garage on Saturday morning with my figures, a can of Minwax Tudor stain, and a brush.

I started with an officer figure in a buff coat. The stain was thinner than I expected (I'd stirred it with a little wooden paddle for a while before brushing it on). It oozed and flowed and puddled into the nooks an crannies of the figure. It also made the detail pop amazingly. I wicked out some excess here and there using the brush and looked on what I'd done. I liked it. With my fears of ruination ameliorated, I went on to the other 13 figures.

The stain dries very glossy. On the recommendation of John of the Panzer Depot, a true dipper himself, I let the stained figures dry for 24 hours before giving them another spritz of dullcote.

The results are very satisfying. The stain darkens the colors overall--not surprisingly. Some would say that the colors become dark and grimy. I think you can counter that by the colors you use. Brighter colors stand out more, but even the darker colors are OK if you go into it understanding that the colors will be some degree darker.

First batch post-dip, post-dullcote
Thoughts on the process

I need to do a bit more wicking away of the stain puddles, I think. I might experiment with a hybrid flick 'n' wick. Even though brushing lets me control how much stain is applied, the stain still puddles like crazy.

I wonder if using a satin or even a gloss coat before dipping would reduce the darkening of the colors. I assume that dullcote has more "tooth" than gloss and therefore keeps more of the stain on its surface. The stain may repel a bit more from glossy or semi-gloss surfaces. I'll have to give it a try.

I think that for some colors that are applied on large areas, like uniform coats, a drybrushed highlight might also help make the post-dip colors brighter.

I might also tend toward lighter colors, which I could get by mixing in a drop or two of white when I'm mixing the paint. I also think that using thinned paints to get a heavy wash will self-highlight to some extent. (I use white primer, so the substrate for the wash lightens the color.)

Online resources

I've found a few places online--though I'm sure there are many more--that offer some advice about the dip:
The future

I'm well-committed to the Thirty Years War project. I've had a large number of figures sitting around for a long time and I just acquired many more. As soon as my recent orders arrive, I'll have enough figures to do two large tercios, two units of dismounted dragoons, three heavy/medium guns, two light guns, two commanded musketeer units, and various command figures.

I've also got many more candidates for dipping. All those primed or partially painted figures imprisoned in boxes can be set free!

I have a lot of single-mounted figures for English Civil War skirmish gaming that are primed and ready. These are Renegade and Bicorne figures, which are BIG 28s (more like 30s). My plan was to do my best traditional method on them, but now I'm thinking that the dip may be the best way to go. I've completed two figures, a Royalist musketeer and a Scots musketeer to see how the dip works for them. Single figures tend to get looked at more closely, so I'm a bit more sensitive to painting them well.

Renegade ECW blocked and ready to dip
There's also the buckets of medieval figures that I have and a big, big box of 28mm Dixon American Civil War figures. (Talking with Kevin Smyth the other day, he's mentioned wanting to paint up his big box of 28mm ACW for Regimental Fire and Fury...)

So, now I've got my marching orders:

When a project comes along
You must dip it
Before the figures sit too long
You must dip it
When the paintin's goin' wrong
You must dip it

Dip it, pilgrim. Dip it good.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Blood on the Sand

We played a first game of Habet, Hoc Habet! yesterday at The Panzer Depot in Kirkland, WA. Phil Bardsley's grandson Zach was in town and wanted to game, so we decided to do something simple and quick—without, of course, factoring in our ignorance of the rules. I'd given the rules a read and thought I had the gist, but actually playing the game disabused me of that illusion.

We played "cut-throat" with each taking a single gladiator and fighting all against all. We used my big 35/40mm Jugula figures from Gripping Beast. I made some quick gladiator stat sheets yesterday morning using Adobe InDesign. We each chose a gladiator and rolled 4 x D3 to get a total of points we could use to customize our gladiators. Phil chose a Secutor, Zach chose a Retiarius, and I chose a Thracian.

For simplicity sake, the stats for the gladiators were pretty equal. Where they differed was in the weaponry. I quickly filled out the armor and weapons stats for the gladiators. The Thracian and Secutor are both sword armed, but the Secutor has a large shield and the Thracian a regular shield. Both also have full helmets, leg and arm armor. The Retiarius is mostly unarmored and has a trident and net. The net is a bit of a novelty and works a little differently than other weapons.

Habet, Hoc Habet! uses playing cards to determine the order of actions in a turn. Each gladiator got three cards and the order of play goes by ranking of the card (King - 2) and by suite (Spades-Hearts-Clubs-Diamonds) in case of ties in the ranking. Aces are an extra card that lets the holding player interrupt any action and play a free action of their own (Phil got two aces on the first turn). Jokers let the holding player re-roll and die.

Phil moved first and went after Zach's Retiarius. Zach moved towards Phil. I hung back waiting to see what would happen. Phil attacked first, but Zach's Retiarius managed to block the strike with his net. I thought at the time that the net took damage in blocking a sword cut, but I later thought I was wrong and returned the net to undamaged. I've since learned that I was right after all: nets used to block cutting weapons, like swords, receive damage equal to the hit points they block. In Phil's case, he did six points of damage to a net worth 8 points. Also, the net blocking the sword, should have deprived Phil's Secutor of his sword, which was moot after the next actions.

Zach struck at Phil next. In a very bad sequence of poor die rolls, Phil failed to block the trident thrust, which landed on his Secutor's right arm, which was armored. But then, he failed to make the saving roll to count the armor in defense. Zach managed to inflict 5 points of damage on the Secutor's right arm, which could take only 4. The attack deprived the Secutor of the use of his right arm, effectively disarming him. I've since learned that it also counts as a MIGHTY BLOW, which does more nastiness. At this point, Phil and his Secutor were hors de combat.

Now was my time to strike and I went after Zach's Retiarius. I managed to hit and Zach managed to block with his trident (his net having been damaged by Phil's Secutor). I rolled a natural "0" for my strike, which calls for a roll on the Critical hit chart. The result was that I would do double damage and cause damage to any blocking weapon/shield. The attack destroyed the Retiarius' trident, but I failed to do any further damage to the Retiarius.

Next turn, I managed to strike first but rolled a natural "1" on my to hit roll, which means a fumble. The result of that was a permanent -3 from any damage points from my sword.  In response, Zach successfully netted my Thracian. In his next action, Zach wanted to attack but had no weapon, his trident being destroyed blocking my sword last turn. Instead he picked up a rock (they are, apparently plentiful in the arena) and tried to bash me. But rocks have a low damage potential and my Thracian was pretty well armored. Bash away though he tried, he couldn't do any damage.

Being netted, I could do nothing until I cut my way out with my -3 damage sword. I tried again and again, but failed to do any damage. A sword does 1 x D6 damage (now a -3 for me) and I got no possible strength bonus because I was netted. I slashed and slashed but could not cut my way out of the net.

At this point, we were at a stand-still. Zach's Retiarius could bash away to no avail at my Thracian, who could not cut himself out of the net.

My initial thoughts on Habet, Hoc Habet! were a bit morose. The game seemed awkward and didn't work as I expected, but on reflection, that may be more a matter of fumbling through rules without having a good sense of the game flow. I sat down earlier today and started writing out a flow chart of the turn sequence, especially that attack sequence, and I have a better appreciation for how the game works. It needs a second game or two to get a real sense of it. I also want to complete my remaining gladiators, so we have more types to choose from.

I also got to wondering whether the rules might not be adaptable to my Bronze Age skirmish figures. I'm still waiting for Ganesha Games to release it's ancients skirmish game and I rather fear I may be waiting for a long time. Ganesha seems to be putting a lot of their effort into other projects.

Friday, July 3, 2015

BTGOA: The Force Thickens

I'm just about finished with my Algoryn force for Warlord Games' Beyond the Gates of Antares. Over the past few months I've managed to bang out three regular AI squads, one AI assault squad, one AI infiltration squad, a command squad, a mag light support weapon and crew, and an x-launcher and crew. At this point I only have some spotter and targeting drones to complete, which I would do if it weren't so hot right now.

A little support from my friends

I have two support weapons and crews complete. The light mag support weapon is a kind of sci-fi version of an MMG. It has a rate of fire of 3 and a +2 strike value (the amount that a target's "resist" value is reduced).

Light mag support weapon
The x-launcher is a sci-fi mortar. It uses overhead fire and the weapon has a blast effect.

Each support weapon comes with just two crew.  Like in Bolt Action, the weapon's effectiveness degrades as crew is lost. However, in Bolt Action, support weapons usually have three crew, so BTGOA weapons may poop out sooner.

The only missing support weapon is the plasma cannon. John hasn't gotten them in at The Panzer Depot. There was one mis-marked pack, but it's contents were the mag light support weapon. I'll have to wait until John gets another in. From the beta rules for BTGOA, it looks like there are other support weapons that Warlord hasn't released figures for, like a light plasma support.

The squaddies

I now have three regular Algoryn armored infantry (AI) squads. The Algoryn AI aren't bad. Their mag weapons are pretty effective and their +1 reflex armor, combined with their normal "resist" value of 6, gives them a 70% chance (1-7 on a D10) to survive a hit (reduced, however, by the weapon's strike value).

Each AI squad is five figures: one leader with a mag pistol, three squaddies with mag guns, and one squaddie with a micro x-launcher, which is a hand-held version of the support weapon, except that it can use direct fire at effective and long ranges (up to 30"). The leader figure also carries an x-slinger, which is a very short range version of the x-launcher.

AI advance!
The command squad is three figures all armed with plasma carbines. Plasma carbines have a slightly shorter extreme range than mag guns, but a +2 strike value. They can alternately shoot "scatter" at an increased rate of fire (RF=2), but their strike value goes down to +0. The command squad also includes a targeting drone, which increases their chance to hit.

Command squad
Targeting drones are part of some unit's composition (support weapons, command squads, and special types).

My favorite new unit is the assault squad. These have mag repeaters, which means a higher rate of fire than a mag gun, but no extreme range and a strike value of +0. What makes the assault squad tough is the "d-spinners" that they use for close combat. The weapon has two attacks (two dice per figure) at a +2 strike value, but it also distorts the effect of weapons used against them, giving a +2 to their "resist" value in close combat.

D-spinners ready
Chicks in reflex armor

The background story for BTGOA says that Algoryn infiltration squads are made up of women fighters only. They're not much different in games terms than a standard Algoryn AI squad, except that they have MAG repeaters for weapons, like the assault squad, and include two targeting drones (which increase their hit probability).

Infiltration squad w/o drones
I gave them darker blue armor with metallic blue chest and shoulder plates. I also gave them pink unit patches. Their armor is less bulky than for the male squaddies. It's kind of the sci-fi equivalent of a chick-in-chainmail that you find in fantasy figures. The armor is more form fitting and shows off their rear ends better than standard armor.

Lt. Shapley Bottoms leads the troops
I try pretty hard not to be stupid every day, but some days are better than others. It wasn't until I got to painting the weapons for the unit that I noticed I had assembled one figure with its weapon held upside down and backwards. Well, crap.

Kids, don't hold your MAG repeater like this at home
What's next?

I still need to get a plasma cannon to complete my Algoryn force. After that, I'll likely start some Concord troops as an opposing force. There are apparently people who play/have played/will play BTGOA at The Panzer Depot, but I haven't crossed paths with them. I do have plans to get a small sample game in later this month with Phil Bardsley, when we'll also give my 35/40mm gladiators their baptism of sand.

The BTGOA rules haven't been released and are only available in a free PDF, which has been supplemented with several smaller PDFs with additional rules. The rumor I hear from John Kennedy is that Warlord Games will release BTGOA in December this year. They've been working hard on having an initial release available of multiple races/polities for the system. So far, Algoryn, Concord, and Boromites are available, but previews from the Warlord website shows more in the works.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Bolt Action Again (or is it Column, Line, and Square?)

After a long hiatus and rescheduling due to illness, convalescence, and assorted other evils, we finally  got together this afternoon for a Bolt Action game set in North Africa. Phil Bardsley had an idea for a scenario he wanted to try, so we carted in our toys and set up a game.

Dick Larsen and I were the British, Phil and Bill Stewart were the Axis. The figures used in the game were Phil's DAK infantry and tanks and his Italian M13/40; Bill's DAK infantry, sandbags, and craters; and my British infantry, tanks, and French Foreign Legion infantry (Les Kepis Blancs). Dick supplied the "gerbils" or "dust bunnies," "tribbles," etc. that represent the dust clouds raised by moving vehicles in the desert.

The Axis mustered the following:

  • 4 x DAK infantry squad
  • 1 x Italian infantry squad (dug in)
  • 1 x DAK MMG
  • 1 x DAK mortar
  • 1 x DAK command squad
  • 2 x Pz III (long 50mm gun)
  • 1 x Pz IV (long 75mm gun)
  • 1 x Pz IV (short 75mm gun)
  • 1 x self-propelled sIG 33 (Pz II chassis)
  • 1 x M13/40

The British Mustered the following:

  • 3 x British infantry squad
  • 1 x Foreign Legion squad
  • 1 x British command squad
  • 1 x British MMG
  • 1 x British mortar
  • 1 x 2 pdr AT gun (w/Bren carrier transport)
  • 1 x M3 Grant (75mm/37mm)
  • 1 x Crusader tank (2 pdr)
  • 1 x Valentine tank (2 pdr)
  • 1 x "Honey" tank (37mm)

The scenario is set in the aftermath of a sandstorm that's scattered everyone. An Italian group is laagered in on a small rise (with a bit of support from their German friends). The remaining troops from both sides are converging on the Italian position with the objective being possession of the Italian position at game end. The converging troops enter the board on turn one using random placement.

The Italians all snug in their laager
There was no shooting on turn one, but with turn two everything started happening quickly. I got the first activation and shot my 2 pdr. right into the side of Phil's self-propelled sIG 33 and propelled it into a ball o' flame.

First kill
And there was much lamentation on the Axis side, especially from Phil who had just finished painting it only to see it knocked out in the first shot of the game.

Phil moved his panzers (which came in across the board from him) against the British armor, which all came in on the far end of the table.

"Panzers vor!"
His first shots knocked out our Grant tank, the only good tank we had. Bill started his tanks in against our tanks from the other side of the table from Phil's.

Dragging a "gerbil" through the desert
My infantry got in with Bill's DAK squads and started getting the worst of it. However, I managed to chew up his two squads a bit in the exchange. Dick's shots against Phil's tanks were disappointing.

In the next turn, my 2 pdr, fresh from knocking out the sIG 33, managed a long-range shot against the rear of Phil's M13/40 and knocked it out.

Getting warmer in the laager
Dick moved our tanks up to try to close the range against Phil's tanks. Having only light tank guns now, we had to get close to avoid being outranged by the German medium tank guns.

Half a league, half a league, half a league onward
Our "Honey" was quickly knocked out, but after that point, Phil and Dick's tanks swapped shots to no effect.

Tank battle
Bill's far tank had been heading toward the tank battle, but got way-laid en route by Dick's Kepis Blancs who charged in to attempt taking out a Pz III with bayonets and pluck.

Men against tanks
The attack failed by a hairsbreadth. In the contest of science vs. pluck, science generally wins.

Phil turned his infantry against my infantry, joining in with Bill. Bill moved his other tank forward with the intention of joining in the fight against our tanks.

Bill advances past the burning wreckage
However, the temptation to machine-gun infantry took over and Bill turned his tank in and moved against one of my infantry squads, getting into close range. I took some damage, but being within 12" of Bill's tank—and inspired by the example of Les Kepis Blancs—I felt compelled to make my own charge against a tank. Besides, the only other thing to do would be to sit and get mowed down by spandaus.

I didn't succeed; nor did I expect to (though I hoped). Dick tried another attack on Bill's other tank, which by now had turned around to machine-gun him, but failed the check to go in. Bill soon gave me another burst from his tanks MGs and I was left with two intrepid survivors for my squad.

Fewer men against tanks
With no targets in range, I needed to change ground with my heroic 2 pdr. Like an old-time horse battery, I limbered up and charged to the sound of the guns.

Changing ground
But by this time, the possibility of British success was beyond likely. My three infantry squads were badly shot up. One had two-figures left, another had four, the biggest had about six. Phil's two squads were nearly intact, and Bill's two were shot up, but not as badly as mine.

Our tanks were outclassed and outnumbered to start with, but more so now. Phil managed to knock out the Crusader on the last turn, leaving only the Valentine standing alone.

Endkampf im Wusten
The Italians were untouched, apart from their tank, and still held the position. Dick's Kepis Blancs looked menacing, but were unlikely to ever take out Bill's tank that was still machine-gunning them with no place for them to hide.


It had been so long since we played that we had to recall, dimly, what all the Bolt Action rules were. We've all been playing war-games for so long that we have rattling through the empty corridors of our brains a lot of rules that are like (or we think are like) the rules we're using. Whenever a question arose, there was much quotation about this rule and that, which could have been from Bolt Action, but more likely from On to Richmond! or Column, Line, and Square.

We tried a new method of activation for this game. Instead of activating one unit at a time, we activated groups of unit. For example, my three infantry squads were one activation. Each could receive orders on it's own independently and took hits, morale, order tests, etc. separately, but activated on a single cube.

My appreciation of this method is mixed, though I remain pretty much a skeptic. On the one hand, it seems to move the game along because you have fewer activations, but you still have as many orders. In effect, the method just elongates a single activation. We only played three full turns, I think, and it took us more than two hours. If we really want faster-moving games, we should use fewer units.

I also think that basically it skews the sense of how the rules are intended to work. Activations by pulling order cubes out of a bag is to randomize the order of units doing things. If you make larger groups of units, you get less randomization and can overwhelm a single unit by shooting at it with several units at once before it has a chance to do anything. That may happen anyway in a game if all your units get an activation cube before the other unit does. But, the probability of having three activations before the opponent gets one is low, but it's an even chance with this method.


In the post-game retail moment, I picked up some more Beyond the Gates of Antares figures. I've already completed 2 regular Algoryn AI squads, 1 AI assault squad, 1 MAG support gun, and 1 command team. I have a third regular AI squad in the works.

The figures I picked up were an AI infiltration squad, an X-launcher, and a pod of targeting drones. I've been making good progress on the figures I've done so far, so I expect to get these done in time for a first game (maybe) later this month.

Friday, June 12, 2015

La Gloire Est Bannie (The Glory Has Departed)

Yesterday, I found buried among my various quaint and curious volumes of forgotten lore a 24-year old issue of Empires, Eagles, and Lions. I thought about the era of amateur wargames newsletter publishing it represented and the words of Matthew Arnold's Dover Beach came to mind:

      ...Now I only hear
      Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
      Retreating, to the breath
      Of the night-wind, down the vast edges drear
      And naked shingles of the world.

Long out-of-print, Empires, Eagles, and Lions (EEL) was a nifty little bi-monthly newsletter put out by the, apparently now defunct or disbanded, New Jersey Association of Napoleonic Wargamers. It had a run of 118 issues being published by RAFM in Canada over a period of 20 years. After that, The Emperor's Press in Chicago took it over in 1995, gave it a cosmetic makeover, and restarted at issue #1. It soon fell into a bit of disrepair, nearly died, revived again, but after just 13 issues, it ceased publication for good.

It was a labor of love by a group that was devoted to gaming the Napoleonic era, the quintessential wargaming period—quintessential regardless of whether one considers it the apogee, nadir, or "black hole" of the hobby. As such, it was a beautiful example of a dead genre: the hobby newsletter for, by, and about hobbyists and their hobby.

EEL was mostly the product of Jean A. Lochet, who was the managing editor and a notable authority on all things Napoleon. The illustrator and "Misc. Subjects Editor" of EEL was Mike Gilbert. Back in the 70s and 80s, Mike illustrated several rules books for Fantasy Games Unlimited (including Down Styphon! which he also authored and about which I have blogged in the past). Mike's playful artwork graced many pages throughout the newsletter and included section and article headings.

As well as regular comic features.

I've enjoyed Mike Gilbert's art wherever I've encountered it (see below). He had a distinct style that was simply fun. Sadly, Mike passed away in 2000 due to complications during heart surgery.

The EEL issue I found seems to be the only one I have left, though I never had many to begin with. I discovered EEL around 1993 and managed to get about a half dozen issues or so (older and newer versions). At the time, I was much involved playing Napoleon's Battles and imagining that I would be a dedicated Napoleonics gamer. Silly me.

Mulling over my serendipitous find, I couldn't help but think that some kind of shift has happened over the last quarter century. The genre represented by EEL has died out. Sure, there are a lot of wargaming magazines, perhaps too many, but the current crop of available publications has lost something. They're a new genre unlike the old genre, which has died, is dying, and shall die.

The great example of that dead genre was Hal Thinglum's MWAN. It was first issued, I believe, by Dave Arneson (of D&D fame). I'm not sure when Hal took it over, but it became the finest example (but maybe the only example) of a one-man operation that had a very large international distribution. MWAN was a 5.5" x 8.5" (8.5" x 11" folded and stapled) format that grew and grew. By the time I started reading it, it was a fistful of paper held together by a few groaning staples (though it soon went to a perfect bound format). The articles were uniformly good and Hal, who had a real day job, did a masterful job getting it out regularly. Reading MWAN, even though one wasn't a member of the Midwest Wargamer's Association, felt homey. Hal was everybody's friend and because of that, MWAN was your local newsletter, no matter where you were.

The Courier came out in 1968 as the newsletter of the New England Wargamer's Association. It started out as a thin 5.5" x 8.5" booklet. I recall D&J Hobbies having a small stack of them on hand in the mid-70s. I'm sure I picked up a few now-lost copies back then. I wish now that I'd kept them, but like so much ephemera, they're made to be discarded, so they were. The Courier had a makeover in 1979 when it became a truly national bi-monthly publication and restarted with Volume 1, Number 1.

The Courier had a good run for a number of years. The articles were good and inspired more than a few projects (and the desire for starting even more). I picked up several copies over the years and Bob Mackler bequeathed me his collection of every issue up to the early 90s. Eventually, I got rid of them. The problem with magazine collections is that they take up so much space and the urge to purge takes over. The Courier releases became more and more sporadic. They stopped the whole volume/number system in 1992 and just went to issue numbers (and theoretically a quarterly output). If you had a subscription, you got four issues, which may have arrived over three years of intermittent publication. Dick Bryant eventually sold the magazine to Legio X publishing. Legio X kept it going until 2005, when they published the last issue (#91) and melded the magazine into Historical Miniature Gaming, which is now defunct as well.

Wargamer's Digest started in 1973 and ran until 1985, when it made a name change to Military Digest (for legal reasons, I recall), and then continued on to 2000. I cut my wargaming teeth on Wargamer's Digest (WD) all through the 70s. The articles were always enticing and they had a WW2 gaming series that I enjoyed immensely. The series featured a lot of scenarios and tactical problems that would make the basis of a nice game system. WD had their own set of rules that were a bit fuzzy. They gave glimpses of the mechanics over several issues, but never actually published them as far as I know. I had a nice stack of WD at one time, but again, the need to purge was greater than my desire to horde, so I sold them off some time back (I think, or maybe they're in a box in my garage...).

Seeing the pictures of miniatures units, like on the cover above, I'm tickled by the bare-bones basing that was de rigeur for the times. These days every base is meticulously terrained with some kind of putty to build it up and ballast, flocking, etc. to simulate the ground covering. Back then, you painted the figure base green and mounted them in multiples on balsa wood painted the same green. Some things do improve over time.

Another lost gem from our bygone era is Wargaming: The Magazine of Fantasy & Historical Simulation. The magazine debuted in 1977 and was published by Fantasy Games Unlimited. It wasn't, however, a house organ for pumping FGU games. In fact, a browse through the four issues I have doesn't show much mention of FGU at all. Apparently, there were only four issues ever published. So it goes...

The articles in Wargaming came from various contributors about many aspects of the hobby. Most were about historical miniature gaming with a minority about fantasy and sci-fi minis. There was a smattering of board game articles, mostly reviews, and a lot of advertisements for figures, rules, games, etc. all circa late 70s. Each issue also came with a little boardgame stapled inside.

There was also a lot of clever art, again contributed by Mike Gilbert (he was more ubiquitous back then than I knew), but also some cartoons by José Neira (who also contributed to The Courier) and Dick Bryant (who edited and published The Courier).

Wargames Illustrated was, for a while, the premier glossy magazine of the hobby, something referred to by some as "war-porn." But its origin in 1987 was a bit humbler. It always had a full-color cover and a color section inside, but most of it was black and white pages with hand-drawn art. The feel of being a hobby mag for, by, and about hobbyists was there.

The magazine got glossier and glossier until it was all gloss. Battlefront Miniatures took it over in 2009 and made it much more of a glossy advertisement sheet for Flames of War and Warlord Games. They even changed the magazine logo. I haven't been able to generate any enthusiasm for WI for many years, but I can always call on Phil Bardsley if I need to consult an old issue (as I have done). He has every one.

Miniature Wargames came out in 1980-something touting itself as The new monthly magazine for the discerning wargamer. MW, like Wargames Illustrated, had color covers and a color section inside. In fact, MW seemed to be almost a mirror image of WI for a long time.

They had a great series by a young Guy Halsall on wargaming early Medieval battles that came out over several issues (all of which I retain). MW is still with us and better, I think, than its near neighbor WI. MW became slicker and more professional over time, but never devolved into someone's advertising sheet.

I've also picked up over the years some issues of Gorget & Sash: The Journal of the Early Modern Warfare Society. This was a nice little magazine for a niche market. Aimed at wargamers, though not exclusively a wargaming magazine, G&S wanted to present the background historical information to gamers interested in the period 1500-1800.

G&S published its first issue in 1983. The idea was a bit of an experiment, as the editorial in the first issue states. As it turned out, the experiment didn't pan out. After 12 issues over three years, G&S folded. The production values were generally OK, not slick and glossy, and the typesetting looked to be mostly just typed. The covers of the first issues were on better stock with 2-color printing. Inside, the printing was all black and white. Later covers were black and white only, though some were printed on colored stock, which gave a tint to them.

The articles were pretty good. However, the 300 year span of focus rather than being narrow, seemed too broad. An interest in Swiss phalanxes does not necessarily translate to an interest in the American Revolution or the Seven Years War. I think that if yer gonna go niche, go niche. I would have focused on only the later 16th c. through the Nine Years War, but that's me. In any case, I'm still looking for issues in order to complete the set.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn't reflect back on my own contribution to this departed genre. Starting in 1992, I collaborated with Kevin Smyth on publishing The Citadel - The Quarterly Journal of the Northwest Historical Miniature Gaming Society. The newsletter was begun by Rich Knapton back in the 80s and taken over later by Kevin who became editor and publisher with Bill Stewart performing the tasks of production, mailing, and "guilty conscience."

When I moved out from Chicago, I started working for Aldus Corp., producer of the then-mighty DTP product Aldus PageMaker. PageMaker was a perfect tool for getting a bit better polish to our production, though that polish was an evolving thing. My initial amateur design got a little better as time went on. Kevin was editor, I took over publishing, and Bill maintained "midnight production" with the City of Seattle's printers and then collated, folded, labeled, and stamped every issue that went out. (The US Postal service then took over and made sure that several copies were mutilated before making their way to subscribers.) It was a great time, though I'm sure that Bill's tongue must have revolted every quarter at all the stamp-licking it was being asked to do.

Eventually, I took over editing too when Kevin became President of NHMGS after Dick "President for Life" Larsen stepped down. For quite a while NHMGS offices and roles revolved around a few people who stepped up to fill the needs and do the things no one else would do—except for stamp-licking, that role stayed with Bill to the bitter end.

I have a stash of The Citadel issues started with April 1991 through the time I stepped down from being editor. By that time I was getting more involved with producing the NHMGS website ( It's quite a nice diversion to read through the articles from yesteryear. Kevin and I seemed to do the bulk of the writing overall (being wordy types with little compunction about holding forth), but there are several nice articles from other NHMGS members as well.

Doug Hamm, then VP North for NHMGS, wrote a regular column called "Cry of the North." He also debuted Larry Leadhead in The Citadel before pairing with Eric Hotz (who is actually an artist) on the more polished version.

Other contributors read like a who's who of NHMGS in the 90s: Wes Rogers (who also wrote some articles for The Courier back in the day), Bill Stewart (when he wasn't licking stamps), Mike Pierce, Bill Cooper (The Beast from the East), Charles Sharp, Russ Bauder, Lance Runolfsson, Chris Leach, Dick Larsen, Steve Walker, Bryan Booker (who provided a couple articles about his nifty self-published ancients rules Warriors of Antiquity), Phil Bardsley, etc.

Closing Thoughts

The thing that stands out from The Citadel and several of the other publications, like Empires, Eagles, and Lions, is how much fun they expressed. The contributors were not professional writers, but their creativity and enthusiasm for the hobby was obvious and infectious. The more tight-knit a group, the more likely its publication will reference inside jokes and local lore. Even though that's mostly opaque to outside readers, it still provides an expression of the pure enjoyment that the hobby brings.

I'm not totally down on the current crop of magazines available. They're well-done professional publications with high production values. But maybe that's what sets me back. By becoming more professional and publishing for profit, today's magazines have lost that essential quality that made the older, home-published, hobby newsletters so endearing. They've replaced community with business and gamers seem to have gone from being participants to spectators in regard to all that's fit to print about their hobby. That's a shame.

Of course, blogging has filled that gap to some degree, but blogging lacks editorial control. So many blogs are hit or miss as far as well-developed content goes. It's also hard to find things on the blogosphere. The sheer number of blogs is overwhelming.

I also think it represents or goes hand-in-hand with tendencies in the hobby to spoon feed games to customers. The older magazines really brought out the adventure of the hobby with articles on things like terrain building, figure conversion, figure reviews, scenario planning, etc. The Games Workshop and Battlefront/Flames of War approach is to remove from the gamer any need to research and be innovative, which is, or was, a big part of the hobby. Younger gamers playing Flames of War or Bolt Action have no idea about the history of WW2. They have a nice system where everything is supplied for them and they just build their army lists from preset unit types. The available magazines are bound to evolve to become attractive to that gamer and not the crusty older grognards who recall fondly the time they converted several boxes of Airfix ancient Gauls into Napoleon's Imperial Guard using just an X-Acto knife and hot needle.

The gentleman researcher/writer who birthed the amateur magazines of the 60s to 80s is a dying breed and his ilk won't likely come again. The glory has departed (1 Samuel 4:22).