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.

Marines huddle in a crevasse before launching an assault on the IJN
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.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Band of Banzais

I wasn't happy with how the photos of my IJA LMG squad looked with a white backdrop under a daylight bulb so I reshot them on my Deep Cut Studios terrain mat. I think the green really brings out their banzai.




While I abhor the faces on the Warlord sculpts (reminiscent of the caricatured features found on anti-Japanese propaganda posters), the last picture really highlights how dynamic the poses are. There is a real sense of forward motion and commitment.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Five Men at Kursk playtest


Over the weekend my mate Damon organised a learn-while-you-play session of World War II skirmish ruleset Five Men at Kursk. We made a few mistakes in the rules, as one always does, but the overall feel of the game - scurrying to cover, getting spooked by suppressing fire, and the tension of avoiding enemy reactions - made me think often of the drama in Band of Brothers and The Pacific.

So, as far as thematic enjoyment goes, Five Men at Kursk gets a thumbs up. 

Also in its favour is that it has no mucky muck points system that could get bogged down in list-building. Squad size and support sections are randomly generated. If you don't happen to have the figures you can work your way down the support table until you hit upon a bonus that you can field, or take a stat bonus.

Anyway, enjoy the pics. Several are from Damon's post on the Bolt Action Facebook group. Terrain is all his. Rather eclectic at present but we are working towards more realistic and thematically appropriate terrain. Right now its a process of finding the right plastic plants.

My IJA squad before rolling for force size. Result: seven troops only!

However, seven men were more than enough to keep the US Marines pinned, thanks largely to my LMG team who were rolling between four and six shock dice in reaction fire
My chaps charge forward to establish themselves in cover with the LMG team providing suppressing fire to allow the NCO and his picked men to advance



Cowering Marines getting used to this rock


Bolt Action: Imperial Japanese Army Painting Guide

My IJA LMG section had their first day out last weekend with a try out of Five Men at Kursk

I'm building my Imperial Japanese Army initially for the Malaya campaign, with an eye towards later use in the South Pacific and the Sino-Japanese War. It'll be a rather long project, so this post is to remind myself what paints I used for the first lot. Hopefully others may find it helpful, too.

Nakanishi's Japanese Infantry Arms In World War II
I wanted my Japanese to have the green-hued uniforms that one can see in Osprey Warrior 95 Japanese Infantryman 1937-45 and Ritta Nakanishi's excellent, but hard to find, books on Japanese uniforms and arms.

Vallejo's Model Colour 923 Japanese Uniform WWII is rather yellow and didn't bear much resemblance to those reference pictures. There's plenty of debate on forums on whether it's useful or not, with the 'I don't care' camp largely favouring its usage. I've seen a few people mention that it's closer in colour to the uniforms used in the invasion of China in the late 1930s. It happens to be similar to the khaki worn by Chinese troops of that period, too.

Since there's a consensus that Japanese uniform colours varied over the course of the war due to supply issues and wear and tear, I think I have a pretty free hand within the khaki to green spectrum. I'll probably do at least one unit in Vallejo 923 for the China theatre, but the bulk will be in English Uniform green.

Yup, you read it right. After a week of research on the forums and half an hour eyeballing a full Vallejo paints rack at Wira Hobbies, it seems that Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform comes closest. There's probably another hue, but my eyes gave out after a while and, as expected, the Army Painter Strong Tone would deepen the hue substantially.

Here's the paints that I used:

  • Basecoat, belt, shoes, ammo pouches, rifle stock: Army Painter Leather Brown Spray, edging highlights in 50/50 Vallejo Beasty Brown (a match for the base spray) and Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Uniform: Vallejo Model Colour 921 English Uniform, third highlights in 75/25 English Uniform and Pale Sand
  • Puttees, bread bags, webbing: German Camo Ochre Orange, third highlights in 75/25 German Camo Ochre Orange and Pale Sand
  • Rifle metal, bayonet scabbard: Black with highlights in Gunmetal Grey
  • NCO's shin gunto: based in black then Gunmetal Grey and highlights in Silver
  • Skin: Foundry North African Flesh B
  • Helmet, water flask: olive drab (VMC 921 English Uniform with a touch of black)


Colours are Vallejo unless otherwise stated.

Here's how they looked after the base colours were blocked in:


The uniform looks too bright, but here is where the Army Painter Strong Tone wash comes in. A good coating was applied all over the figure, with particular attention to guide the wash to settle in the appropriate creases.


After the wash dried for over 24 hours the figures had a nice rich olive tone, and a tad glossy. I was just using the wash, mind you, not the dip.

Even like this they looked pretty good, if you consider grubby to be good. I recently watched Oba: The Last Samurai, a biopic of IJA troops on Saipan who refused to surrender after the war was over. The actors looked really grubby with their clothes and skin darker than what I achieved above. At a certain point in the story they clean up and wash their kit and they resemble a light khaki. For my purposes, grubby is good, so this scheme seems promising.

I decided to press on with highlights to order to make the details pop out better. I went over the raised areas with the original base colour - English Uniform - for much of it, then touched up the very highest points with a 75/25 mix of English Uniform and Pale Sand. Some guides recommended 50/50, but that looked too bright.

I initially felt the highlights were too strong (under my daylight bulb), but they looked balanced on the games table. Here's the full Type B squad of 13 men with an LMG section.



Here's another shot of them out on their first foray in a learn-by-playing session of Five Men at Kursk.


I have to say that at the block colour stage I was getting bored out of my mind painting the figures in their dull, muted schemes. How I longed for the brightness of ancients! But after the wash and final touches I feel enthused to finish my platoon project.

Still remaining:
2 x IJA LMG sections
1 x IJA grenedier section
1 x MMG section
headquarters
Type 97 Chi-Ha

I'll ordering a few more top ups to round out the forces for a variety of theatres and historical battles, but it does feel achievable. It's also got me motivated to make progress with my 28mm ancients. While the WW2 project is a collective endeavour, 28mm ancients doesn't appeal to most local players and it's largely a labour of love on my part.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Bolt Action: IJA Platoon Organisation




Warlord's Build An Army deal offers a very good start on building a 1,000-point Japanese Bolt Action force that follows historical dispositions. I picked an HQ, two boxes of IJA plastic infantry, an MMG section, and a Type 97 Chi-Ha tank (free!). The Kurogane 'jeep' is mandatory. It's not terribly useful for my preferred theatres, but it's a cute model and I'm happy to have it.

In retrospect a better deal would have been to pick two boxes of SNLF marines for the same price because the sprues are the same as the IJA, except that they come with alternate metal heads and two metal figures. Still, I've no plans right now for any SNLF action.

With the two boxes of 30 plastic infantry and the metal HQ pack one can build up a standard 'Type B' single rifle platoon comprised of a HQ, three rifle sections and a grenadier section with about eight infantry left to be used as a bugler, banner bearer, and a sniper or command followers.

Following historical practice I'm stumping up the 20 points for an LMG in each of the three rifle sections. In addition, I'm following the proportions for one grenadier section to every three rifle sections. Models are plastic unless otherwise noted.

Platoon Headquarters: 2nd Lieutenant, Regular (metal) + liaison sergeant [60 pts]
1st light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
2nd light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
3rd light machine gun section (13 men): NCO, LMG, 11 riflemen [150 pts]
4th grenadier section (13 men): NCO, 3 grenadiers, 9 riflemen [205 pts]

The rest of the units are assorted to taste depending on the scenario. Here's an initial loadout:

Medic: Medic, Regular (metal) + follower [33 pts]
Medium Machine Gun Team (metal) [65 pts]
Sniper section: sniper + spotter [50 pts]
Tank: Type 97 Chi-Ha [135 pts]

Comes to 998 points.

I kicked off my project first with a 13-man LMG section as the group is using Operation Squad as a transitional step to Bolt Action games.

Here they are, all assembled, ready for painting.


I put a bit of extra effort to sculpt a dug-out base for the LMG gunner. It's based on an illustration in Ritta Nakanishi's Japanese Infantry Arms in World War II.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

Expanding to 20th-Century Wargaming: Bolt Action

My first World War II miniature, a Warlord Games Imperial Japanese Army NCO, assembled whilst watching The Bridge Over the River Kwai for inspiration.

This blog began as an effort to chart progress in my ancient warfare projects, of which there are two main thrusts:

1. The Punic Wars (which is really an excuse for armies from the whole Western Mediterranean)
2. Greeks (which dovetails with the first - I kid myself that somehow that's efficient!)

As if that weren't enough, a friend has lured me into World War II wargaming by offering to help paint some of my figures if I agree to field an Imperial Japanese Army force so he can fight the Pacific War.

Everyone else in our area seems interested in the war in Europe despite the fact that we're based in Malaysia (I know, who am I to talk? Look at my Ancients project).

Damon's invite was timely, since to tell the truth of late I've started to look at figure ranges for the Malayan Emergency and Warlord inter-regnum China, Mark Copplestone's wacky Back of Beyond range in particular, with its 'Dare to Die' units; what's not to love about half-naked brutes swinging big swords and blasting with a Mauser?

No rule set has caught my eye but local players are using Bolt Action. It's not the most historical approach given the emphasis on equal point games, but it's a gateway to period gaming that other rulesets can serve better at a later date.

I ordered one of Warlord's Starter Deals that comes with a free tank. With two boxes of 30 Imperial Japanese Army infantry, a command HQ, scout car, medium machine gun section and a 97 Chi-Ha Tank, that's well over 1,000 points and will serve me for a good long while.

In retrospect, I should have ordered the Special Navy Landing Force boxes as they are the same sprues but with extra metal heads and two metal command figures for the same price under the deal. I could have then mixed and matched. No big loss though.

Though I don't care for the politics the Japanese Army is an apt choice for me since in my martial arts practice I have studied or tried three weapons associated with their armed forces of the period. I study the Toyama school of swordsmanship used by the officers, the short staff art of jodo (though it wasn't used in the field), as well as an exposure class to jukendo, the bayonet form derived from French methods.

Naturally, the first figure I assembled was of an NCO charging with his shin gunto. I've had a go at cutting target mats with one of these. It was much shorter than I expected, but kept a good edge despite much written about their substandard quality.

The NCO plus my experiment with coloured wood filler on the base. Looks good despite some tendency to crack when drying.

I'm assembling my force for the Malaya and Singapore campaign of 1941-42, with an eye towards Guadalcanal for Damon's US Marines to pepper.

Two Fat Lardies have a doorstopper of a campaign book on the Japanese invasion of 1941-42. Their Fall of the Lion Gate has 21 scenarios for their I Ain't Been Shot Mum company-level rules. It should be easy enough to shave off some platoon-level action from these guidelines.

There are some Perry Brothers' Desert Rats on their way to serve as Indian Army and 1st Malayan Regiment troops for Malaya and Singapore. A check with a local WWII enthusiast suggests that their helmets and gear can be used as is for the Indian and Malay troops. If I pitched the flesh tone right I may be able to paint them up for dual use.

At one point I was worrying about whether I would need to order some separate metal heads from Woodbine wearing the khulla and turban. I may do so at a later date but for now, let's go the cheap and cheerful route.