Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Dux Britanniarum!

Distraction strikes once again in the land of wargaming. I have been sidetracked from my ancients project with the prospect of Dark Age gaming, specifically the Arthurian age of Late Antiquity.

Since its always more rewarding to paint for a game where there are ready players I've let myself get talked into playing Romano-Britons versus an existing army of Saxons held by gamesmaster Damon using the Two Fat Lardies' Dux Britanniarum rules.

Here are the fruits of some sporadic painting over the last few months.

First up, a near complete two groups of Roman spearmen, figures by Footsore Miniatures.

Near complete as the shields and bases aren't done yet. I'm mainly undecided on the shields. For reasons I detail below.

Part of the process of psyching myself up for this project has been consuming literature related to Arthur and the Saxon conquest/migration.

One key text has been the fantastic Age of Arthur supplement for Warhammer Ancient Battles, now out of print and rather rare or exorbitantly expensive on the second hand market. Thanks to a Facebook group I was lucky enough to contact one of the authors, James Morris, and purchased a spare copy directly from him.

(James was also kind enough to dig up a spare unpainted and out of production La Dama De Elche from Gripping Beast for my Iberian project.)

The other inspiring text has been Bernard Cromwell's smashing Arthur trilogy, the Warlord Chronicles. This series presents a largely pagan or agnostic Arthur, although in all probability whoever may have been the historical Arthur would likely have been Christian whether he was Roman or Briton.

Still, I rather fancy a pagan Arthur for my campaign, or one not so obviously Christian. This meant scrapping my original plan for a red and white shield theme based on Little Big Man Studio's Chi-Ro transfers. In any case, the design below is somewhat speculative, not being in the Notitia Dignitatum.

I did purchase the decals below, but since they are for auxilia (the Cornuti) I wanted an historical scheme that could have been used in Britain in that period.

After a bit of research on Luke Ueda-Sarsson's excellent site on the Notitia I thought I might adapt the design of the Exculcatores Iuniores Britanniciani, part of the Comes Britanniae. It is somewhat similar to the Cornuti design above with a twin-headed element, especially the - likely erroneous - Oxford variant on the left below.

Since no version of this design is available as a transfer I'm going to try my luck freehanding it. I can't go too wrong if I broadly follow the contours of the Cornuti design.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Return to the Punic Wars

It's back to ancients, my first love in historical gaming.

After a hiatus of nearly one and a half years due to work, life and the distractions of World War II gaming I am back to working on the Punic Wars (after a brief spell of GADD over mythology and vintage Citadel minis).

Settling on an optimum base size and an initial ruleset has provided a much needed spur to reduce my pile of plastic and lead of Punic Wars miniatures.

The petite army lists in Basic Impetus 2.0, of around 10 to 11 units, provided a manageable starting point to focus painting and production. So far, I have nearly finished painting four units: spearmen of the Sacred Band, Balearic slingers, Iberian scutarii and Iberian caetrati. Next up are Libyan skirmishers and Numidian light horse.

I think the toughest decision to make in ancients wargaming is neither scale nor ruleset, but rather what basing convention and approach to take.

Basing and rulesets are reflexive choices, each influencing the other. I finally decided on using Impetus basing for a number of reasons. The primary reason is aesthetic, besides the tactics and history, this hobby is about aesthetics or else wooden blocks serve just as well.

If this time-consuming hobby is about great looking miniatures then dioramas seem the way to go as opposed to single-figure basing focused on serried ranks and files of troops, or an equivalent approach via multi-basing.

Impetus basing - on 12cm wide bases in 28mm scale - lets the figures breathe and allows for greater aesthetic flexibility, especially in composition. 

It also translates well to both the gaming table and the other ancients rulesets I am interested in playing. The latter all happen to be 'element' based and include Hail Caesar and To The Strongest!

12cm fits nicely in a 6' to 8'-wide table allowing a battle line of about 15 units wide, which nicely accords with my desired sweet spot of big games of 20 or so units per side (the rest being in reserves).

Once I took the leap to arranging my troops on their bases in diorama rather than in just dense ranks, there was an immediate shift in my cognitive process. I began to consider how each individual figure related to others in the group, what story they told together rather than how best to face them forward and rank them nicely.

Frankly, it became much more intellectually engaging and pleasing. It became more fun.

Casualty figures become very useful for adding character and story to a base. Here I have a draft composition of a Celtic warband. I love the way the female warrior relates to the Roman she has downed.

I've decided not to pack too many figures on my bases. Partly to save production time, partly because they actually look a bit better with some irregular space between them, and partly to ensure a bit more protective base space when clumsy fingers descend from the heavens - I've already broken one javelin multiple times.

Starting with Basic Impetus 2.0 has already paid off since I have nearly finished painting four units in just over a month. That's more than I've been able to do since acquiring this horde of lead and plastic two years ago. The size of a project for Hail Caesar or To The Strongest! was paralytically large. Too large to get off the ground.

Now that things are moving along faster than ever, being realistic, I should be able to start work on the Romans by the end of the year. 

Wednesday, 29 August 2018

Paint & Switch: From Vallejo to Foundry

I really must learn to paint faster. One step towards that has been to slowly shift towards using more serviceable paints. I've found Vallejo paints to be rather uneven in quality with far too much uneven lumpiness and chalkiness. I suspect I could try diluting with matt medium instead of water to improve consistency without overdoing flow.

They served well for my World War II project which relied on a fairly simple approach, but won't hold up for the brighter, crisper look I'm aiming for with ancients. It's also taking too long to match colours as I have effectively shifted to a triad approach.

Thus, I've slowly made the shift to using Wargames Foundry paints after very pleasant experiences with their flesh triads. The Sacred Band below were painted using Foundry's Mediterranean Flesh triad and its very subtle.

The Foundry paint had a good consistency out of the bottle, required very little thinning, and applied very evenly to surfaces. The three tones also worked harmoniously creating a surprisingly realistic impression even at close distance. Sometimes I had cause to deepen the shade with a wash, but it mostly applied fine.

I found it was particularly effective to apply the flesh tone shade in a light coat over a white primer as this created a natural highlight on the raised areas which provided clear guidance on where to apply subsequent lighter tones.

The spearshafts above were haphazardly painted with whatever earth and wood tones I could muster amongst my existing Vallejo paints but I'm not satisfied. The Flat Earth basecoat was far too red. Now I have the Foundry Spearshaft spears and javelins should be a doddle. A good thing to as there will be many to paint.

I painted the linothoraxes above with a Vallejo stone grey basecoat, a homemade wash, followed by a highlight with a frustratingly chalky Vallejo ivory. The ivory was coming thick as toothpaste out of the bottle. Since dilution with water was leading to chalkiness - the titanium oxide in white paints is quite coarse - I tried diluting with matt medium which led to better results.

With Carthaginian and Greek projects lined up there will be many many linothoraxes to paint, so switching to the Foundry Canvas triad should speed up the work. For my next lot of Libyan spearmen I've a mind to employ more Hellenistic colours such as madder and blue for the linothoraxes to create some variety and visual interest.

I've yet to identify a suitable blue triad out of Foundry's selection for this purpose. Possibly their Vivid Blue. The only drawback with ordering Foundry paints is that all one has to go on are the names (which are at least usually indicative) and website colours (which will vary with one's monitor).

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence! IJA Platoon completed

Here they are, my Imperial Japanese Army rifle platoon, completed after nearly six months work. I also managed to finish off an MMG support with a Kempeitai officer providing motivation in the field.

The figures are a mix of metal and plastic from Warlord, The Assault Group and Westwind. After completing a rifle and grenadier section in plastic I grew weary of fiddly multi-part plastic kits and switched back to metals.

Perhaps its part reactionary nostalgia, but I prefer metals. They cost more, sure, but they usually have plenty of character and spare me the tedium of assembly and filing. This means a quicker route to painting and therefore completion for the tabletop.

There was lots of experimentation in this platoon as it was my first World War 2 project. Colours went from very dark to a brighter scheme in order to make the drab modern uniforms pop up better on the tabletop. Of course, in real life drab colours which blend in with the landscape are ideal for uniforms, but they make for a poor visual feast.

Lesson learned, what is useful in life on the battlefield is a disadvantage in tabletop wargaming.

Second Lieutenant and Sergeant. The lieutenant's uniform 
is a blend of English Uniform and Russian Uniform greens.

If I ever have the energy to do another IJA platoon I may make the looks more homogeneous by having one all plastic with a brighter re-paint (I still have an untouched box from Warlord), and an all-metal platoon based on the jungle fighters.

For now, the plastic grenadiers and rifles can be the fire support while the metal chaps in shrubbery do the advance flanking.

White-gloved commander on the far right.

Rather than the more handsome and dashing Hiroo Onoda from Stoessi's Heroes, I went for the more imperious but dowdy commander from Warlord Games. Although too slim, he reminds me more of Lieutenant General Yamashita Tomoyuki, the Tiger of Malaya.

The sergeant is from The Assault Group, which have the second best faces after Warlord's jungle fighters, below.

The Warlord plastics and the Westwind minis have very caricatured faces, reminiscent of the propaganda posters during the war. Some of the Westwind minis look like Asian vampires with their two widely-spaced fangs. That said, the metals blend together quite well. The section below mixes TAG with Westwind. I love figures with vegetation camouflage. They really offer points to brighten the model and add visual interest.

Plastic grenadiers with some minor conversions to conform better to a 45ยบ firing angle. They benefitted from delaying basing until the very end of the project. I acquired a DIY static grass applicator and I went a little overboard with it. I should leave a little more mud base showing in future. I've got some longer grass - 6mm and 10mm - on their way from Arcane Scenery to experiment with making my own long tufts and a far cheaper rate than pre-made ones.

I'm going to take a break from Japanese infantry for a while. Their platoons are nearly double the size of Allied ones and completing one amidst job and family commitments really tested my stamina.

Since the British players in my group have yet to have their platoons ready (mirroring history), I'm going to do some of the forgotten armies of the Commonwealth next so I can host complete games at home.

I've started work on a platoon of Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders with their distinctive pith helmets. These should be relatively fast to finish as the Perry Desert Rats are less fiddly than Warlord plastics and the khaki drill scheme is straightforward.

I'll probably follow up with some vehicles after, a Lancaster and a Ha-Go or Chi-Ha. Subsequent infantry will be some metal Indians that I am really looking forward to.

Thursday, 23 November 2017

Chain of Command & Progress Updates

My Japanese engage a pinned Malay rifle section in our first game of Chain of Command.
My chaps lost the combat by 2 and gave ground, however the Malays broke and routed off the table!
(Most of the pics by club mate Ian)

Rules Update

Our search for a suitable ruleset for the Pacific campaign continues with some test games of Chain of Command. I really like this ruleset. It's much clearer than NUTS! and includes good chrome such as support for historical platoon organisation and tactics. The early game patrol phase is particularly fun and a bit more nuanced than the head-to-head hack of the NUTS! PEF system that we had been using.

Two IJA rifle sections and a grenadier section (centre right) sweep to left against a thin line of Australians.
I do hope my group plumps for Chain of Command. That said, I plan to try NUTS! solo play once I do up a Commonwealth platoon for my Japanese to face.

Aussie snipers try to pick off the advancing Japanese. It eventually becomes easier for the Japanese to overrun the snipers rather than spot them.

Miniatures Progress Update

October and November have been busy months and progress on finishing off my IJA rifle platoon has been glacial. I've 16 riflemen in the works plus the Lieutenant and Sergeant from HQ. I'm trying a different painting technique on these based on a method used by my gaming mate Damon who's a prolific and skilled painter.

Using a three-tone approach he basecoats with the highlight, washes with the shade, and glazes with the mid-tone. It's a modified Foundry/Dallimore method that should produce smoother transitions instead of the signature layered stripes of Dallimore's method. Damon also says that it's a quick painting method.

Unfortunately, my painting sessions have been so spread out that it's been hard to judge any time saving.

As for the final result, I still remain somewhat psychologically attached to an approach of starting with the mid-tone, washing a shade and adding highlights, though it is a challenge to get a smooth colour transition.

After I'm done with the four sections of the rifle platoon I'll be finishing off the supports:

  • Final touches and basing on the MMG
  • Type 97 Chi-Ha tank
  • Type 95 Ha-Go tank
  • Two snipers
  • 70mm Infantry gun
I can't wait to be done with the Japanese. While my motivation for them is starting to ebb, I am becoming more motivated to prepare my Commonwealth forces.

Commonwealth Plans - Argylls and Straits Volunteers

I've already started converting a box of Perry Desert Rats with some Indian sola topis for use as either Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders or Straits Settlement Volunteer Forces, a single platoon to represent both elite and green forces.

Some of the Brens may need to be swapped for Lewis gun figures if I'm fielding them as Volunteers. I recently purchased a Lewis Gunner pack from Great War Miniatures, primarily because the famed Malay military hero Leftenan Adnan was felled by the Japanese in the Battle of Pasir Panjang whilst wielding a Lewis gun.

The figures will need some conversion to look like their are wearing shorts and rolled sleeves. This shouldn't be too hard a task. I just need to shave down the arms and add some rolled sleeves, then bulk out the thighs to simulate the shorts and smooth over the puttees.

The first section of Argylls I assembled look rather fine. The Perry sculpts are great, and while they are "true 28mm" and less than chunky, they look fine to the metal and plastic Japanese I have as the latter are of similar height but much smaller than typical chunky 28mm.

This topi-wearing platoon will pair nicely with the Lanchester 6x4 armoured car that I've sourced from Empress Miniatures. I confess this is likely my main motivation for assembling this platoon. Both the Argylls and Malay Armoured Regiment used the Lanchesters; the entire global supply was shipped (or rather dumped) in Malaya in the late 1930s.

However, I'm realising that my ambitions for assembling Commonwealth troops is scratching the limits of practicality.

Indian Kulla Platoon

My main goal is to represent the "forgotten armies" facing the Japanese invasion. This means featuring those less storied than the British and Australian troops. I've inspired others in my group to cover the Malay Regiment adequately, perhaps disproportionately. If we're going to stage the invasion of Malaya then we really need to field Indians.

Right now, I'm the only one in my group preparing Indians. So after the Argyll/Volunteers comes some Indians in kulla assembled from Westwind's British Indian army figures. I've had to supplement these with an order from Pulp Figures, Artizan and Crusader because Westwind doesn't have a complete range. The 2" mortar and anti-tank rifle are missing.

In fact, I've noticed that very producers of WW2 British 28mm figures have 2" mortar models. Perhaps its a case of art imitating the horrendous supply situation of the historical troops (I read that the Argylls trained with a clay replica of a 2" mortar as the real ones hadn't arrived), but it underlines for me what a complete package the Perry Desert Rats are - all you need for a platoon in one box.

More importantly, Westwind sell their Indian Bren one to a pack with a Vickers MMG. Fielding the three Brens in a platoon would mean amassing a disproportionate three MMGs, and at a hefty price of £11 per pack.

My solution is to get some 8th Army Bren gunners from Artizan and either field them in their saucer helmets or decapitate them and use the separate Indian heads I purchased from Westwind. These are too large in scale to fit on the Perry Desert Rats. Apparently, Woodbine Indian heads are a better match. Still, I prefer metal to plastic and, despite the simplicity and elegance of the Perry figures, I find it helpful for my productivity to mix in some metals after slogging through plastics.

These chaps will also serve double duty as Indian National Army troops in Burma.

Sikh Platoon

After that comes a second Perry platoon with Sikh heads. I've already got all the bits, as well as an Indian Pattern Armoured Carrier with Sikh crew, a Sikh Vickers team and a Sikh Mortar team. The heads look great and it's a unit that would serve well in any future Desert War campaign.

That said, that's three platoons. I already find preparing a 54-man IJA platoon a slog, what more three 36-man Commonwealth platoons. I must be crazy. Still, all the Commonwealth platoons have uses as at least two variants, so it's somewhat efficient albeit megalomaniacal. They're also pretty straighforward to paint as they are all Khaki Drill.

Japan Versus the Pacific

A Malay section breezes into an estate before the IJA tear them apart.
Although I have enough figures left spare to assemble another IJA platoon, I don't think I'll have the stamina to do so for a while yet. The fiddliness of the Warlord plastic Japanese really tested my patience. The Perrys are a breeze in comparison.

I've got an Australian commando section, fine Steve Saleh sculpts from Warlord and bits of a Chindit platoon that I expect to filled out in the future.

The IJA are rather like the Romans of World War 2 Pacific wargaming. Once you build up an IJA army you can field it against various opponents. There's also the Chinese as opponents for the opening years of the Pacific War just because Mark Copplestone's Warlord Chinese range is so awesome.

Once at least one Commonwealth platoon is completed I will turn my attention to preparing terrain, particularly rubber plantations and secondary jungle as these were the main zones of action besides roads. I must admit I have much to learn on this front.

Luckily, Damon is shouldering most of the terrain burden for games at AD. However, for occasional home games I need to have some of my own terrain. As of last week, I've started scouring the park for suitable fallen twigs and branches that would serve as potential rubber and jungle trees.

In the long run this will be worth it, especially since I plan to game the Malayan Emergency and it's all the same terrain.

Thursday, 28 September 2017

IJA Platoon Progress: Jungle Fighters

Here is the tension I always face in contemporary wargaming. Plastic kits are very affordable gateways into a particular army or period, the scope for customisation is nice, but I get dreadfully bored assembling the models.

With limited hobby time I see it as a trade off between painting time and assembly time. This has led me to swing back to metal miniatures because the main prep involved is just shaving the mold lines. This means a shorter road to painting. Boredom is the enemy of progress.

Lately, I've been working on the Japanese jungle fighters from Warlord's Bolt Action line. While their Japanese plastics are pretty decent, there are just too many fiddly bits to assemble for my taste. Also, given their kit and historical colours, it is challenging to paint them in a way that makes them 'pop' on the table without going to a very pale khaki.

The great appeal of the metal jungle fighters is the vegetation camouflage that offer some points of visual interest on the wargames table. These can be painted up pretty bright to stand out from the otherwise plain equipment.

The facial sculpts on the jungle fighters are also far superior to both the rest of plastic and metal Bolt Action Japanese. The latter seem to be directly lifted from the racist anti-Japanese propaganda posters of the period (below). I don't know if the buck teeth and squinty eyes were a deliberate homage, but I note the Japanese don't depict themselves this way.

For the paint job I followed this excellent guide by the chaps over at WWPD.

I did a few things differently:

Base: AP Leather Brown spray
Uniform: Vallejo Japanese WW2 Uniform (instead of Desert Yellow); highlight: Iraqi sand, Pale Sand
Flesh: Foundry North African Flesh, Highlight: Beige Red, 50/50 Beige Red/Pale Flesh

I had bought the Japanese WW2 Uniform at the very beginning of my project, before I had a strong sense of how the uniforms looked in practice. It's a painfully bright yellow, reminiscent of Stabilo Highlighters.

It also looked nothing like any of the variants of Japanese uniforms that I had seen, even those in the China theatre. Luckily, the Strong Tone wash and plenty of highlight layers muted its glare.

Regarding highlights, while the WWPD guide recommends one highlight before the wash, I found that to achieve something close to their result required two highlights, the last one being bright Pale Sand. Putting the wash last does help 'bring' the layers all together, but needs some very bright tones underneath for that tabletop pop.

Because the faces on these figures were appealing, I took the effort to paint and dot the eyes, though the squinting left me nearly cross-eyed. It was well worth the effort though.

The eyes really make the face even though we'd rarely see them on the tabletop.

I also experimented with some aquarium foliage for the bases. The most extreme example was my LMG gunner seemingly bursting out of some big spade leaves. A far-fetched plant set up, but I found that it nicely framed the running pose of the model and it also made him readily identifiable. Otherwise, he could easily be mistaken for a regular rifleman.

I used the same leaves on a few others, taking inspiration from the halos in Japanese Buddhist art.

Fudo Myo-O, a very popular Buddhist deity in Japan
Enough talk, more pics:

Next time around, I plan to try Vallejo Desert Yellow as the main colour and start from a white basecoat. The newer Army Painter sprays don't adhere to metal well at all. I suffered much peeling during the project.

While I have another unit of these Warlord figures unpainted, I decided to opt for some variety by ordering jungle fighters from The Assault Group and Westwind. More on those later.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

NUTS! Border Skirmish - IJA-IJN Joint Scouting Mission

The foliage cover was so good that I lost track of the chap on the right for half the game.

Last weekend we tested another set of squad level rules, NUTS! by Two Hour Wargames (now rebranded as TWH). I don't have a set of the rules, they were explained to me verbally, so apologies for any errors below.

It has a somewhat similar feel to Five Men at Kursk though with the welcome additional of a fog of war device that lends tension to the opening turns. Before units are placed on the table each side instead moves around blips that Possible Enemy Forces (PEFs). The players mark which PEFs represent actual units, the others are bluffs. Do I engage one PEF only to be outflanked by another?

The PEF only spawns once its player decides to reveal it or it enters the line of sight of an enemy unit.

The IJN. There's a PEF chip in the background.
In our test game of Imperial Japanese Army/Imperial Japanese Navy v US Marine Corp on a recon mission I managed to use two PEFs to keep the Marines player guessing as to whether he was charging headlong into a combined bloc of two IJA and IJN squads, or a lone IJN squad with the IJA potentially flanking him (it was the latter).

Once a unit steps into the line of sight of an enemy an In Sight test is triggered to see who shoots first. Fire and counter-fire is resolved until someone is dropped or the exchange broken. Thus, there's quite a large role for 'interrupt' reactions before squad actions get resolved.

We also learned that we shouldn't let our NCOs or LMGs be the first to enter the enemy line of sight. Sometimes you can't avoid it as the NCO spawns on the PEF token when it is revealed.

My IJA squad spawns from its PEF as it enters the line of sight of some Marines. My NCO is promptly shot down by reaction fire...

Marines spawn from a revealed PEF

Firing ranges were very long on the 6' by 4' board and we really learned to fear the BAR.

Otherwise, the game was quite intuitive in the manner of Five Men with very simple definitions of obscurement and cover (soft and hard terrain basically).

Our mission objective was to have at least one man scout out the three sectors of the enemy table edge and make it back off a friendly edge.

"Where are we now, guys?" The spirit of Captain Sobel lives on.

Oh wait, that's a friendly up ahead.
With two squads per side our IJN squad was wiped out but for their sergeant. Luckily he used fast move to scout out the enemy sectors and managed to escape off the table with cover provided by the flanking IJA force.

Heading back to camp to put in a request for some aerial bombardment.

That's it for the NUTS! playtest. Next weekend: Disposable Heroes.