Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Pikeman's Lament, A Review

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

The basic game engine

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

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

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

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

So how does The Pikeman's Lament fare?

The Pikeman's Lament

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

The horse

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

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

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

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

Adaptability outside the 17th c.

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

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

Postscript: Quick Reference sheets

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

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

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Bumper crop (and joy)

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Cornless in Xochimilco

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Postscript: Grizzled Mox &c.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Bogtrotters: Timeline Miniatures 16th c. Irish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, January 15, 2017

3-2-1 in 1, 2, 3: Basing for The Pikeman's Lament

When word came to me that Bill Stewart was undertaking a massive rebasing project for his single-mounted Napoleonic, Colonial, and English Civil War figures, I recalled the lines from Yeats' The Second Coming,
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned. 
For more than 20 years, the one immutable constant in an ever-changing world was the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ of 20mm by 25mm (that's ¾ inch by 1 inch to the metrically challenged). Something momentous must have happened, something ominous,
Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
Indeed, the release (or imminent release) of Osprey's latest batch of skirmish rules, The Men Who Would Be Kings, Chosen Men, and The Pikeman's Lament, shifted the universe, caused a tremor in The Force, and compelled Bill to undertake the most odious task imaginable: rebasing figures—lots of 'em. Had this been one of his twelve labors, even Heracles would blanch.

So I was intrigued.

Michael Leck, co-author of The Pikeman's Lament, featured a unique basing scheme on his blog Dalauppror. This was visible in posts going back a while, but recently he laid out the dimensions he used.

The basic scheme is to mount figures on round bases in clumps of 3 or 2 with single figures as "spare change" to accommodate casualty removal. Since units in The Pikeman's Lament are 12 or 6 figures, a 6-figure unit (horse, dragoons, forlorn hope, commanded shot) would have clumps of 3-2-1; a 12-figure unit (pikemen, shot, clansmen) would have clumps of 3-3-2-2-1-1. Michael's recommended base sizes for foot are,
  • 1 figure: 25mm round
  • 2 figures: 30mm round
  • 3 figures: 40mm round
For mounted figures,
  • 1 figure: 40mm round
  • 2 figures: 50mm round
  • 3 figures: 60mm round
Michael uses perfectly round bases (as Bill is doing), which posed a dilemma for me. I liked the idea, but I was loath to go out and buy buckets of round Litko bases and magnetic bottoms in six sizes. I can (and did) buy a whole slug of minis for less than all that basing would cost. Also, even though I've purchased a lot of Litko bases, most of which sit unused in boxes, more recently I've gone back to plastic sheet for my Lion Rampant, Quetzalcoatl Rampant, and Bolt Action figures.

Ken Kissling, one of my fellow Kampfgruppe Commander gamers, taught me the trick of making bases using "sidewalk" plastic sheet that you can get at most hobby or model railroad stores (until those stores cease to exist). The "sidewalk" plastic comes with various square sizes; I use the ⅛ inch squares because it's more versatile in creating different size bases.

I just score along one of the lines and snap to get the base sizes I want. This works exceedingly well for making square/rectangular bases. For round bases, I bought a punch set that goes up to 30mm diameter. I made round bases that way for my Bolt Action officers/NCOs so they'd stand out from the rectangular bases of the standard figures. But there's no way to punch out anything bigger.

Then inspiration struck!

Years (and years) ago, my first joint project with other NHMGS people was gaming the AWI battle of Guilford Courthouse using Andy Callan's Loose Files and American Scramble rules (which he'd published in Wargames Illustrated). Our basing for that was also irregular clumps of 4-5 figures on irregularly cut bases. I figured that although I couldn't punch or cut perfect circles in plastic, I could cut crude, irregular circles—which suddenly struck me as preferable to perfectly round bases anyway.

My ECW figures are Renegade and Bicorne. These are BIG figures. Michael's recommended sizes wouldn't work, but he did mention in his blog that you could tweak up the diameters as needed to accommodate the figures. So for the foot, I went with,
  • 1 figure: 30mm round (or 1 ¼ inches)
  • 2 figures: 40mm round (or 1 ⅝ inched)
  • 3 figures: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
For horse, I plan to go with,
  • 1 figure: 50mm round (or 2 inches)
  • 2 figures: 60mm round (or 2 ⅜ inches)
  • 3 figures: 70mm round (or 2 ⅞ inches)
To get these sizes from the "sidewalk" plastic sheet, I started by cutting squares, then cutting the squares into octagons (it's easy to score along the diagonal—and I don't need to be precise). I apply these to the sticky side of a Litko magnetic sheet, then trim them out.

I then go along trimming the octagon into a hexadecagon, then an icosidodecagon, etc. (it's kind of like applying "flatness" to a Bézier curve in a Postscript.)

As I rough-cut the circle, I start to add nicks 'n' such to make the perimeter even rougher.

Finally, I use medium-fine grit sandpaper to complete blunting any pointy spots. The idea is to better blend the figure base into the surface of the game table by making the demarcation fuzzier. 3mm thick Litko bases have an admirable heft, but they do stick out.

So far, I've rebased every ECW figure that I'd finished and based, which wasn't many. There's a kind of serendipity to being dilatory: rebasing is a snap if you didn't base in the first place.

I'm kind of excited. I have lots of figures to work on, though so far I'm just basing/rebasing figures for The Pikeman's Lament. I'm keeping my Lion Rampant and Quetzalcoatl Rampant figures on the Wm. Stewart Standard Rectangular Base™ (actually, I've gone with ⅞ inch by 1 ⅛ inch). There's just too much work to do rebasing 'em all. However, for ECW it feels like the project has met the moment. It's languished for some time and now I have the enthusiasm to get cracking, especially since the rules are coming soon.
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Comrades in Arms

I ordered some figures Friday morning. It was kind of impulsive and it was an impulse driven by an impulse. I contacted Alan Rudd of Timeline Miniatures (formerly Hoka Hey Wargaming) about the 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids I love because he's picked up some parts of the old Monolith Designs/Graven Images ranges and I had an impulse to get more (which is difficult to do right now). I asked whether he would be carrying the Prehistoric Europe range and he sent an encouraging reply (fingers crossed). But that got me thinking about the excellent Border Reivers range they carry, which were also Jim Bowen sculpts. I'd been eyeing this range for some time. With the imminent release of The Pikeman's Lament from Dan Mersey/Osprey, I thought now might be the time to bite and get some of the 16th c. Irish from that range. So I did.

But then I felt a gnawing emptiness (not just in my wallet) because this was the point in my purchase that I would email Phil Bardsley, confess what I'd done, and receive absolution. Since the dawn of the Internet Age and email, Phil, Bill Stewart, Kevin Smyth, Dave Schueler, and I (and various others) have exchanged emails about our projects and enthusiasms. At some point in the mid-90s, every Sunday morning became a virtual chat session as we sat at our computers drinking coffee and firing digital bon mots at each other, discussing figure ranges, and planning games. They were fun times, and we who were in the vanguard of graying the hobby were tickled that we could still learn these new-fangled interwebs tricks that set the distance between us at nought.

This underscores one of the feelings that I've always had about this hobby: It's not so much the figures, the rules, the painting, the games—it's the people that make the hobby worth pursuing. As the people start to go, something of the hobby goes with them. I find myself reevaluating the projects that Phil was part of because they seem to have lost their charm with his death. Much of our Bolt Action activity in the last years was driven by Phil's desire to paint and play 28mm WW2. Our games will be different without him and I'm not sure if I'd rather sell off my Bolt Action figures/models and use the money to fund other projects. Dick Larsen has also been a huge part of those games. Dick suffered a minor stroke the same day Phil died and is recovering in hospital and, later, rehab. It will be a while before Dick is back in action.

Phil and I planned many projects together, mostly abortive. I still have some of the Langton 1/600th scale Napoleonic warships he and I bought 15+ years ago. That went nowhere quickly, but it was fun to plan, buy, discuss possible rules. It wasn't so much the project as the pleasure of planning it with a friend. In the last year, we'd been talking about expanding Bolt Action to do the Syria-Lebanon Campaign of 1941. Phil bought some of the Perry 28mm Free French and he was talking me into buying the Vichy that Perry makes. It would have been glorious.

Kevin Smyth and I have 25 years of schemings and collusions. We'll have widely roaming phone conversations that come to some incoherent plan of action that may or may not be disastrous—but always fun.

And we've had a lot of collusions over the years. We've played and hosted many an ACW naval game together in two different scales and using a number of different rules (though like a dog to its vomit we always return to our adaptation of Yaquinto's Ironclads board game). Several times we put on our 15mm Tarawa game using Arty Conliffe's Crossfire rules. One year at our Enfilade! convention we joined forces with Dave Schueler and converted the Advanced Tobruk board game rules to 15mm miniatures and hosted a game of the battle of Mechili (1940). We've run many Silent Death games, played various rules adaptations for the Hundred Years War, and even gave WRG 6th edition Ancients a last hurrah together. Our latest collaboration is our Aztecs and Conquistadors project using our Quetzalcoatl Rampant variant of the Lion Rampant skirmish rules. Kevin and I also coauthored our (I think now defunct?) newsletter, The Citadel, while Bill did production and licked the stamps to mail them out. New collaborations await—even though Kevin has too much integrity to get cajoled into anything that has to do with pikes.

Being pulled into another's mischief is a central delight of having friends in the hobby. Left to my own devices, I have no idea what I'd get up to, but the most enjoyable projects I've done have been the result of discovering a synchronicity of thought with co-conspirators that blossoms into some action, possibly painted figures/models, and—miraculously—an actual game or two.

I met most of the guys I regularly game with when I first came to Seattle in 1991. I showed up at a quarterly meeting in August at the US Coast Guard Bear Room on the Seattle pier. I immediately got into an ACW game run by Kevin and later found myself collaborating on a group project with Kevin, Phil, Bill, Dick Larsen, and others that would be a refight of the 1781 Battle of Guilford Courthouse (Phil was a descendant of Nathaniel Greene, so he was a big factor in picking that battle to game). I had already been painting 28mm AWI back in Chicago. As luck would have it they were doing the same out here. It was serendipity (or kismet).

That group has remained my core group ever since, though I've branched out into other games that pull in other players like John Kennedy, Steve "Puff" Puffenberg, Ken Kissling, Chris Craft, Mark Serafin, etc. With that lot, I've done 15mm WW2 (the Kampfgruppe Comander days), 1/300th modern, 1/2400th WW2 naval, among other things.

With Phil gone, some projects may fade away, but many others will never be born. It seems a long, long time since we worked on our first project together, but also as if it were yesterday. It's these somewhat maudlin (for which I apologize) reminiscences that make me appreciate anew the friends I've made in our strange little hobby.

Thank you, Phil, for all the years of friendship and fun. Thank you, my comrades in (wee) arms for the same and for all the times to come.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

A dirge without music

I just feel tired.

Phil Bardsley, my friend of 25 years, passed away in the early hours of January 3. He'd been ill, but this was unexpected.

His wife Karen texted me on the preceding Thursday that he was in the hospital because he had trouble breathing. This wasn't the first time he had to spend a few days in the hospital and by now it seemed routine.

He'd been in and out of poor health for the last decade. In 2005, he was diagnosed with kidney disease. He spent two years on dialysis (administered at home by Karen). He went through a viral infection that destroyed several vertebrae in his spine and required a titanium cage to be built and fused with the good vertebrae using bone taken from his leg. In 2008 a coworker donated a kidney for a transplant, which freed him from the hated routine of dialysis. The anti-rejection drugs kept his immune system low and he was often prey to viruses that would never affect most of us more than causing a slight sniffle. For him, they could be life threatening.

Lately it all seemed to be taking an increasing toll on his well-being and he'd carried along an oxygen tank with him for the last two years. Once robust, his stamina had gotten so low that he could only walk short distances and stairs were out of the question.

When he went into the hospital last week, Karen kept me up to date, as she often did. I expected to be able to visit him, but his condition was such that he needed rest and could barely talk without getting severely out of breath. They expected to move him to a rehab unit on Tuesday where he would be more amenable to visitors, but I found a text from Karen waiting for me Tuesday morning telling me that Phil died during the night. The hospital called her around 3:00 AM to say that he was failing fast and by the time she got there he had died.

I was just over at his house on December 23rd oohing and ahhing at his new 75-inch flat-screen TV while we ate pizza and watched Guardians of the Galaxy. It's surreal to think that suddenly he's not here anymore.

Phil had a lot of interests and appetites. There was an epicurean richness to his lifestyle. For a while, Scotch and cigars were all the rage. He'd host gatherings at his house and three of four of us would fog up his back room while we drank and smoked and watched war movies on his big-screen TV. We used to go on expeditions to cigar stores around the area looking for much-coveted Fuentes Opus X cigars. When we found them, we'd sit in the cigar bar smoking and drinking some premium brew. We also accessorized our habit with fancy torches, cutters, and humidors.

He loved to barbecue and was a master of the grill. Steak 'n' shrimp, ribs, salmon, brisket—he loved trying new things and religiously watched the cooking shows for new ideas. For a while he mastered the art of crème brûlée. He loved bringing out his torch and caramelizing the sugar to create the perfect hard shell atop a wondrously smooth vanilla-bean custard.

Around 2004 or so, he pulled me into his enthusiasm for premium sodas. We made several excursions to the Fremont district in Seattle to visit Real Soda, a vendor who supplied a lot of classic and hard-to-find premium sodas (like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper made with cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup). I'm fatter today because of all that soda. Sugar exacts its price.

We loved to eat and shoot. We regularly went out on what I called shoot some/dim sum expeditions: dim sum brunch at Noble Court in Redmond followed by a few hours on the range at Wade's Eastside Guns. Karen joined us on several occasions packing her pink lady's gun. Phil loved his pistols. He had a beautiful Kimber Eclipse Pro II with custom-made ivory grips engraved with his family crest. He was also fond of shaking the neighboring shooter's bays by firing his .357 Magnum. Later on, he got a Taurus Judge and we had a blast shooting .410 shotgun shells from it. We would also go out to WAC gun shows in Monroe and Puyallup until the exertion of wandering a large exhibition hall got to be too much for him. I don't recall our last outing at the range. Phil and Karen went a few times somewhat recently, which I declined. I wish now I'd made the time to join them.

For a while in the 90s and early 2000s we were into photography. He and I both had Olympus 35mm SLRs and we traded tips and tools for taking the best pics of our painted miniatures. The results were sometimes good and sometimes too much (and sometimes pretty lousy). I recall a very, very macro shot of a 1/6000th scale Nimitz class carrier that looked stunning to the naked eye, but subjected to intense magnification looked like a cake someone had left out in the rain. We lost our enthusiasm for macro and focused more on lighting and increasing depth of field. My fumbling photography skills don't do his figures justice.

Louisiana Tigers - one of Phil's best efforts
Phil was an expert painter, which made his figures such noble subjects for photography. Stubbornly old school, he was one of the few (or only) gamers in NHMGS who used enamels to paint his figures. The results were legendary. Before he started miniature gaming, Phil was painting 54mm figures for display. He applied the painstaking methods of painting larger single figures to painting miniature armies. I'd often see works in progress and wonder how he had the patience to do that. Even then, I picked up a lot of tips from Phil and grew to be a better painter by his example. I always think "Bardsley scrub" when I use the technique of scrubbing a lightened version of a color over the solid hue to get a less starkly chromatic version. Phil used it mostly on his excellent 1/300th scale aircraft, preferring to use more traditional highlighting and shading on his 28mm figures.

1/300th Navy Phantoms in Vietnam
1/300th Emily flying boat - masterpiece of the Bardsley scrub
Show and tell was always a feature of social gatherings. I'd often come to dinner at his house with a box or two of painted figures in tow. We'd sit out on his patio on a summer afternoon sipping mint juleps (amply supplied by Karen) and talk shop. He loved seeing what other people were painting and had a keen appreciation for others' skills. He stopped competing in our Enfiade! painting contests after he won too many times running, but he always liked to peruse the contest entries.

Bonaparte at Borodino diorama set
We often traveled about the Seattle-Tacoma area browsing hobby shops and bookstores. Hobby shops were especially interesting if they carried Wargames Foundry figures, which were generally only available by mail order to the UK, but available (for a short while) at a couple stores. Phil loved to paint the best figures available. Comstock's Books in Auburn was a favorite haunt. We'd go and browse David Comstock's special reserve in the back room for the hard-to-find volumes on planes, tanks, etc.

I bought my 350z in 2007 and next year Phil traded in his lumbering SUV for a nifty BMW Z4. Cars were briefly a shared enthusiasm and Phil discovered Griot's Garage in Tacoma which prompted a few trips to stock up on top-shelf car cleaning products. (For a while, Phil was buffing the Z4 every month to keep up the shine.) It was fun to alternate our road trips between my Z and his Z4. On on rare sunny days in the Pacific Northwest, it was a pleasure to roar down I-5 with the top down.

Phil was there when my car failed me. One Christmas Day we had a deep, lasting snow that shut down the roads to most traffic. My beautiful but inefficient 350z couldn't even get me out of the driveway in ice and snow. I was stuck and unable to travel to be with my family. Phil drove up over  the unplowed roads in Karen's car to bring me back to their place for Christmas dinner. A kindness I've always remembered.

Wargaming, the hobby through which we met, featured in a lot of social interactions. For some time Phil and Paul Hannah put on regular air games using 1/300th scale airplanes. Phil and Paul painted models that were the envy of us all.  Phil's mass of B-24 bombers that he painted for their Ploesti game was awe-inspiring. Lately, we played a lot of Bolt Action WW2 skirmish games, which Phil was fond of. We would get together with Bill Stewart and Dick Larsen and a few others who showed up from time to time and spend an early afternoon at the Panzer Depot. Phil's 28mm Afrika Korps were magnificent. He and I had started 28mm North Africa around 2001 or 2002. The project went into a long haitus with us both having half-painted forces boxed away somewhere, but it came back strong when Warlord Games released their rules. Phil also painted some American tanks for the Pacific War. Just a few weeks ago he was urging me to set up a Bolt Action game of Marines versus Japanese sometime in the new year.

Phil makes a point, while Paul looks dubious
Phil had a knack for finding cool stuff, which often started abortive (or just slowly gestating) projects. Phil got into 40mm AWI, ACW, and Napoleonic after discovering the excellent lines from Sash and Saber, Front Rank, and Perry. He also found the Smooth & Rifled skirmish rules online, which started a few projects going. He and I played a game with them once and later got Bill involved in another, both using 40mm ACW figures. That got me started painting some 40mm ACW myself, but started is as far as I got (there are still a few barely started on my painting table). It did inspire me to paint my 40mm prehistorical Europeanoids, which have featured in a few games with Phil.

But games over the last years became fewer and farther between. We'd plan a game, but Phil's health kept us from playing. He made a lot of effort to play because he enjoyed the camaraderie and banter. With Phil and Bill in a game, the banter was mercilessly droll. We all share the desire to roll our dice solely among good friends whenever possible and we were never disappointed by our games.

Phil loved his dogs. Our friendship has spanned three generations of Shelties: The Tipper and Jake years, the Simon and Sadie years, and the current Bo, Cooper, and Laddie (a.k.a. Mr. Science) years. Every visit to Chez Bardsley required running the gauntlet of excited barking dogs just to get in the door. They hung around Phil, who was always the alpha in the house, but always extended a welcome to me. I don't know what they'll do now without him. We fear our losing our pets, but not often that our pets will lose us.

I miss him deeply already. If he were still alive, I might go weeks without talking to him, texting him, hanging out with him, but when we got together again, it would seem as if we'd only just parted the day before. Now I know that we won't meet again and I lament all the good times that might have come and regret the many passed opportunities now gone forever.

Rest in peace, Phil. You were a prince among men, a generous and gracious host, and loyal friend. You are missed by all who knew you.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know.  But I do not approve.  And I am not resigned.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Sunday, January 1, 2017

All Our Yesterdays

2016 is over and the new year is upon us. I feel like I've aged more than 12 months since this time last year, but that may be the chili I had for lunch.  My thoughts and reflections on this past year:

La vie (et la mort) avec des chats

The biggest change in my life in 2016 was the loss of my beloved cat Grendel in September. The sharp pain of those six terrible weeks between his diagnosis with cancer and his death has given way to a dull ache that lingers and may well linger indefinitely. I can't help thinking about that line from the song Mr. Bojangles, "after twenty years he still grieves." Does time heal all wounds? Maybe not in this life. I had such a special relationship with that fat, obstreperous little man that the absence, the nullity of him is palpable.

I think that our relationship with our pets restores, to some degree, the natural order of creation. We were meant to be in harmony with our environment, not at war. That we can create such a bond with our critters now is some foretaste of the restoration to come:
Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he shall dwell with them,
And they shall be his peoples,
And God himself shall be with them—their God.
And he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes,
and death shall be no more;
nor mourning nor crying nor pain—they shall be no more.
The first things have passed away.

And he who sits upon the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new."

(Rev 21:3-5)
The girls go on. Maebh is still crazy; Rhiannon is still fussy; both are still adorable. Rhiannon is soon to be 16 and Maebh is going on 13, two little old ladies. They're a bit like Joan Crawford and Bette Davis in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? I expect Maebh to push Rhiannon down the stairs any day.

The new cat, Bogart, is a much-loved (by me) addition to the home, even though his full admission to the tribe has hit many a snag. I was too sanguine that he would fit in quickly. There were a few problems at first, Maebh wouldn't stop hissing and growling at him, but there were also signs that things might settle down. That optimism pretty much went south after Bogart chased Maebh through the house while she shrieked and yowled. She came out just a bit ruffled, he suffered a nasty bite on his left foreleg that required a second trip to the vet for cleaning and dressing. (He had an abscess on his shoulder from another Maebh bite just a month earlier.) I keep fearing for the girls in these encounters, but it's always Bogart going to the vet.

For now I'm keeping the girls and Bogart separate. My den, which I envisioned as a temporary quarantine, is now Bogie's semi-permanent home. I manage a kind of time-share where I lock the girls in my bedroom and let Bogart have the run of the house and then put him back in the den and let the girls roam free. It's not ideal. He spends by far the most time in his room, though I do a lot of stuff in there, like my painting and 'putering, so I manage to spend time with him wherever he is.

I have to admit, however, that I'm a bit perplexed how to resolve settling him in. He's too enthusiastic about wanting to be with his "girlfriends" who want nothing to do with him. He presses, they run, he chases, hijinx ensue—along with cat-bites and puss-oozing abscesses.


Having perfected the art of the dip, I started out last year with many a high hope for painting projects. I managed to get a lot done earlier in the year and was set up to get a lot more done when Grendel's death and Bogie's arrival took a lot of the wind out of that sail. The current irons in the fire, in no particular order, are:
  • Aztecas y conquistadores: This is the Queztalcoatl Rampant project Kevin Smyth and I have been working on. I have a surprising number of figures painted for it, though unsurprisingly many fewer than Kevin has. I'm nearly done with my conquistadors, but I have a lot of Tlaxcalans and then Aztecs to paint. I just ordered a few more conquistadors and a lot more Tlaxcalans. The Mesoamericanos paint pretty quickly, even the more elaborate ones have a simple color scheme. I ordered several more Tlaxcalans from The Assault Group. I'd meant to order more Aztec slingers, too, but forgot. However, just yesterday, Jerry Tyer handed me a bag of 24 Assualt Group Aztecs he's had sitting around for years, including eight slingers. Joy! More material possessions!
  • Lion Rampant: Earlier in the year I got excited about painting a 28mm Medieval Spanish army for Lion Rampant. I was going to debut it at a small Lion Rampant tournament that was held in Gig Harbor, WA in September. I managed to get a lot done, but then the project stalled with Grendel's sickness and death. I'm just now getting back to them. I also have a large number of later Medieval figures from Old Glory's Hundred Years War range. These have been kicking around half painted for well over 10 years. I hope to squeeze out a few Lion Rampant retinues from these.
  • Beyond the Gates of Antares: This project is a going concern and yielding its fruit in season. I recently completed some long-stalled additions, which include my first vehicles and a heavy weapon with extra crew. I'm well along with some more recent additions. This is something we play regularly, so I expect to get a lot of mileage out of what I have and add to it as new releases come. All my figures are Algoryns and I'm tempted to branch out. We'll see.
  • 30 Years War: After my initial output at the beginning of the year, I started many more (and ordered many more) figures. Things paint faster with the dip, but like Thursday's child, I have far to go. We're planning a game of Pike & Shotte for Drumbeat in February, but I'm not confident I'll have any units completed by then.
  • 1672: This project is still prominently on the back burner. I'm excited by the possibility. The uniforms (and they are uniform, unlike the motley of everything else I'm currently painting) are simple and the quick block painting used in the dip may result in several units painted quickly, whenever I get back to them.
  • English Civil War: I have a lot of pikes and muskets going on. I've been working on some of the beautiful—and big—ECW figures from Renegade (who have now resumed binness) and Bicorne. My plans are to use these for the soon to be released Pikeman's Lament rules from Dan Mersey/Osprey. I have some English and Scots in the works. These are also mostly uniform, so painting should go quicker than with the 30 Years War, etc.
  • WW2: This is pretty dormant right now, but I have several Italian troops for North Africa to paint to complete a platoon-sized unit, plus a few Italian tanks. I also have some British tanks for North Africa to complete. I have a lot of Crusader Russians that I picked up cheap at Enfilade! a few years ago. I keep meaning to get to them. So far, I have no Germans. I expect to remedy that at some future date. What keeps me from getting more done is that we're not playing Bolt Action much.
I'm reduced to painting in my wee den closet. In the past, and just before Grendel died, I took over more open spaces like my dining table or desk to work on my wee figures. My first generation cats know enough not to tromp through my painting mess. Bogart has no intention of keeping that tradition. The cramped space I'm left with limits the amount of things I can do, though cleaning and priming is a movable feast: Have file, will travel.

Politics  (God help us all)

The point of politics is to upset people, or so it seems. I try to avoid the topic, but it dominated so much of 2016 that I feel the need to make a few upsetting comments.

I'm no fan of The Donald, but I have to admit to feeling ecstatic when Hillary lost. If schadenfreude is a mortal sin, I am doomed to hell-fire. (However, cf. Aquinas Summa Theologicae Supplement 94.3 "I answer that...the saints will rejoice in the punishment of the wicked, by considering therein the order of Divine justice and their own deliverance, which will fill them with joy.") And the schadenfreude only got worse as the post-election days ticked by and Team Hillary kept melting down publicly in increasingly hilarious ways.

Then there were the pathetic attempts to overturn the election.

Jill Stein acted as Hillary's stalking horse to demand recounts in the three key states that turned the election (because, you know, it would be unseemly for Hillary to demand recounts after all the time she spent hectoring Trump about whether he'd accept the election outcome). Judges shut down the recounts in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Trump actually gained votes in Wisconsin. Oops. But it gets better.

Other stalking horses fulsomely encouraged (or violently threatened) Trump electors to vote faithlessly. They even tried to get Hillary electors to be faithless in order to pave the way for faithless Trump electors. In the end, Trump lost two electors in Texas, one to Ron Paul and another to John Kasich. Hillary, however, lost five—four of them from my home state of Washington. Three of those four faithless Washington electors voted for Colin Powell, who didn't run, but took third place anyway. One Hillary elector from Hawaii voted for Bernie, so at least he got a bit of his own back after having the nomination stolen from him. Three other Hillary electors tried to defect but were either forced to recant or had their faithless votes invalidated and recast by a faithful alternate. The end result of trying to use the electoral college to overturn the election was even more schadenfreude inducing than the botched recount: Trump 304, Hillary 227 (or 224, if we go by intentions).

Of course, the outraged cry has gone 'round the land (yet again) to abolish the electoral college, which would require a constitutional amendment unless the Democrats can find a judge who will rule the Constitution unconstitutional (don't laugh, that's not at all improbable). Of course, the urge of the outraged to abolish Article II is more urgent in light of the fact that Hillary won the popular vote by nearly 3 million. But the electoral college was designed specifically to give every state a say in presidential elections proportional to their representation in Congress, and no more, so as to disallow a few very populous regions to dominate the whole country. Hillary won California (my former, and formerly deep-red, home state) by 6 million votes. There are a lot of people in California. But even if Hillary won the vote of every single Californian, she only gets 55 electoral votes, the same number she'd get if she won California by only a single vote. California may really, really love Hillary, but it doesn't get to decide presidential elections on its own. That's especially meaningful since states have a lot of leeway in deciding how their elections are held. California has effectively banned the Republican party (much like Mississippi, South Carolina, et al. in 1860). The election for US senator from California was between one Democrat and another Democrat. Some Californians are agitating for secession. Well, adios. It means that 55 electoral votes and all those popular votes won't go to Democrats in US elections any more. California is one of the wealthiest states in the US, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that as a separate country, the People's Republic of California would give Venezuela a run for its money on the misery index. But I digress...

The ramifications of 2016 will go on and on. I don't know what to expect from a Trump presidency, though it will certainly be less dire than the Democrats are shrieking (most things are) and less glorious than the Trumpkins promise. My overall feeling for the state of things would be pessimistic whether Hillary or The Donald won, but that's grist for another mill. For now, I'll deal with what has come, i.e., our absurd orange overlord and the musical caterwauling of the left at everything he says and does.

The Democrats, who spent the eight years of the Bush administration being obstructionists and the eight years of the Obama administration decrying the evil of obstructionism, will return again to being obstructionists and declare it good. Republicans will, of course, bemoan the Democrats' obstruction (though, to be fair, many despise Trump enough that they might become co-obstructionists thus creating a new bipartisanship). Trump will try to rule by fiat (i.e., executive orders) as Obama did, only to be denounced as a tyrant, as Obama was. It seems that we've gone from government of the people, by the people, for the people to government by tit for tat.

There won't be enough nails to shut Hillary's political coffin. Without serious intervention from friends (assuming she has any who aren't sycophants) she'll undoubtedly try to run again in 2020. When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die. Hillary's not dead yet—and even then, there's enough toxic ambition in her system to animate her corpse until the smell becomes unbearable (worse even than boiled cabbage, urine, and farts). The sad reality at this point is that there isn't anyone on the Democratic bench that has the stature (or lacks the baggage) to make a serious run in 2020. If they don't run Hillary again, even though she's well past her sell-by date and loaded with baggage, who will they run? Maybe a retread of a different sort...

Obama, having now declared himself the winner of a (delusional) third term, may spend his time out of office orchestrating a repeal of the 22 Amendment (or finding a judge who will declare the Constitution unconstitutional), which would let him run again. He's young enough to still be around if or when a repeal happens and he certainly has the ambition and narcissistic self-regard to imagine himself yet again his country's new (or renewed) hope: Messiah 2.0, rested and ready to save our souls once again.

Whatever happens, 2017 and beyond promises to be an interesting mélange of political hurly-burly, angst, and, yes, schadenfreude—and squalor, lots of squalor. It should be entertaining. I can hardly wait.

Danse Macabre

Apparently everybody who was anybody died in 2016. The Grim Reaper's harvest of exceptional souls seemed especially rich this past year. The quite unexpected back-to-back deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds were the most poignant. Requiescat in pacem.

Celebrity deaths hold a fascination for us. Maybe it's because they're celebrities or maybe it's because death is that one leveler that puts the uncommon and the common on par. Some seemed to have lived wonderful lives, but others seemed to have lived a horror of addiction, mental illness, dysfunction, etc., much of which was unknown—or only vaguely known—while they lived. In reviewing the lives of the rich and famous, we gain a whole new appreciation for the simplicity and obscurity of our own (at least I do).
Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile,
The short and simple annals of the poor.

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
And all that beauty, all that wealth e'er gave,
Awaits alike the inevitable hour.
The paths of glory lead but to the grave.
"It is for freedom that Christ has set us free," wrote St. Paul. But we do so poorly with freedom, squandering it mostly on ambition, the pursuit of wealth, and the satisfaction of our base desires. Every year's crop of celebrity dead brings home that truth and underscores the fragility of our lives and the transitoriness of all our achievements great and humble. And so, in saying goodbye to 2016 and greeting 2017, it's only appropriate to end with this timeless quote from the Bard:
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.