Sunday, July 31, 2011

Napoleonic Progress

Good News on the painting front, as I have my first shot at painting a unit completed - I've painted up a base of British Infantry, just to try things out and get my eye back in (last time I painted plastic Napoleonics would have been probably in the very early 1990s, and that was quite a while ago! Still, it's good fun and I liked the end result. The figures here are painted and washed with Devlan Mud, giving them a bit of shadowing. I plan to matt-varnish them and then base them. The learning curve is also continuing, as I have been reminded that glueing the plastic figures onto lolly sticks to paint them is not exactly like doing so with lead figures. The plastic figures' bases are too perfectly smooth, so the clue doesn't hold them - most of the ones shown here simply popped off when I tried to paint them! I shall score the underside of the figures before I try and fix them to a permanent base.

Ah yes, the bases. I got a good comment from Jim on my last post, when I trotted out my first guess at base sizes. Sensibly, Jim suggested using 60mm x 60mm square bases for everything, and I quickly realised this was an excellent notion. (You see, I don't do this blog to share all my efforts: I just do it so the wargaming community at large can save me from my own blunders!) :-)

Anyway, the photo above shows a 60mm square infantry base with some figures arranged on it. Taking advantage of the larger base, I can even depict the infantry in varying formations! Shown above (with some Highlander figures, but we'll just skip that for now) is a possible 'Column' formation of a 4-man row at the front, backed by a second and third rank of three men in each. This still leaves loads of room around for safety's sake to prevent figure-bumping, and lets those troops who habitually fought with 'columnar tactics' get a better showing. Likewise, I'll place formed Light Infantry further back on their bases, and put a big skirmisher screen to the front for them.

There's also been a bit of card base-cutting going on. This monster-stack above represents all the bases needed to represent the Anglo-Allied army, in its entirety. 53-odd bases in total, I believe, excluding Supply Camps and Command Parties. (Flippin' heck, this really is a big project I seem to have somehow blundered into...)

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Bases for the New Napoleonic Plastics

Here are a few basic experiments with basing, and my initial thoughts. I've taken some of the Airfix figures to try with this, as they seem to have the greatest variance in base-size. Plus, it also lets me take a break from posting endless lists of boxes, and put some pictures up for a change!

I am basically sticking with the 'Horse, Foot & Guns' ruleset for basing, and I have plumped for a 60mm frontage. A single Base-width in HFG is scaled as about 300 metres in the 'real world', so this means a manageable tabletop distance of slightly over a foot (32cm) being equivalent to a mile (roughly 1600m.) Nice! It also proves handy as a decent size to fit 4 horsemen onto a base, which is a nice number - 3 looks too sparse, while 5 is a bit of a crush!

The above pic is of some of the French Heavy Cavalry, and I've used some spare bits of card to frame-out a base 6cm wide by 4.5cm deep - keeping base-depth in scale with width, as per the usual DBA norms. Airfux cavalry seem to have unusually big bases, like a big splodge of chewing-gum. I may have to clip a few when I glue them down to a base, but overall, the riders themselves look decently spaced out.

Next up, some artillery. These fit very nicely onto a 6cm by 6cm square base, giving room for a single cannon and a crew to stand around it without looking too cramped for room. With these two, the next question was about Infantry - could I get 8 or 10 figures to a base?

The answer, it turns out, is ten - even with the random footprints of Airfix. This base is 6cm by 3cm in size, which takes a nice double-rank of ten figures, two ranks of five. Airfix also seem to have no real uniformity in poses in a figure set - others appear to standardise a lot more but I've been certain from the word go that I'd need to have mixed poses on a base, so it's not a problem!
Relating to the difference between 8-figure and 10-figure bases, or even the possible double-base option in future for Black Powder, I think I'm safe plumping for 10 figures a base as the cost difference is negligible and availability of infantry boxes appears good. Plus, frankly, I think it looks good!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Plastics begin to Arrive

At this early stage of gathering plastic 1/72 figures, the list of required boxes is such that frankly, at the moment I can start gathering however I like - all milestones are too far off to achieve in one swift leap! I had pondered doing all the combined Artillery, or maybe just the Prussian army, etc. but I decided against it. I'm just nabbing things here and there for the time being, letting the stockpile grow organically. The long delivery times required for ebay items also acts as a bit of a brake on things, which is probably just as well.

Following on from my Waterloo Airfix diorama box, the first ebay purchases have turned up. First and foremost, I have received a bulk-lot of a dozen boxes of Revell Napoleonic miniatures that some nice guy was selling on ebay. I now have:

2 boxes of French Grenadiers (in greatcoats, somewhat unfortunately)
2 boxes of French Mounted Guard Chasseurs (natty cavalry, with big bearskins)
3 boxes of British Line Infantry (Belgic shako, the 'classic' Brit redcoats!)
1 box of Prussian Infantry (Line Prussians, with the shako)
2 boxes of British Life Guards Cavalry (plumed Grecian-style helmets, so hopefully useful 'heavy cavalry' for some other nations - Dutch Carabiniers, perhaps?)
2 boxes of British Foot Artillery

Overall, the Revell figure quality seems to be noticeably superior to the Airfix versions, as predicted. In addition to this I have received another ebay order:

3 boxes of Prussian Infantry from Italieri. These seem to also be of high detail quality, although the Italieri figures are an infantry mix - no distinction between Line and Landwehr, so I'll need to go through them and sort them.

A good couple of bases' worth are already in hand, and more are due to arrive soon (in the form of Prussian Artillery by HaT, I believe). I can begin painting a few in a short while, so I have started looking over the arrived miniatures and assessing what base-scale I want.

Rules-wise, I am pretty keen on giving the DBA-esque 'Horse, Foot & Guns' a try. It has the classic DBA virtues of speedy play, meaning the Waterloo campaign could conceivably be knocked off in a weekend's worth of play, preventing a long bogged-down campaign.

Another option is of course to use the 'Black Powder' rules I typically use in my Seven Years' War games. They include a lot of Napoleonic 'colour' through their special rules, although the single-base-per-unit situation is a bit more awkward with them.

For basing flexibility, ideally, I should have two bases per infantry unit so I can represent formations. Side by side would give a Line formation, one behind the other for a Column, and back-to-back for a Square. Only march columns and skirmish screens would require more detailed basing if I really felt compelled to represent them, so it's a pretty decent option for future expansion. Initial checks quickly reveal the difficulty with this, however - great variability of manufacturers' footprints for the figures. Where do you literally draw the line for splitting a base, when it's practically guaranteed that some bases won't fit the measurement?

For now I've decided, following much pondering in my bunker, to stick with a single-base stuffed with figures. I will be fixing them to a card base so that future remounting is at least a possibility, which MDF rather rules out in my experience. I also have the minor matter of keeping costs down, and buying a huge board of good-quality card to chop up is still far better than lots of differently-sized pre-cut MDF bases.

Next up: basing sizes!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Waterloo Box

The first bits of the Waterloo plastic armies have arrived! The Airfix box was indeed a good starter-set as I have bagged a bunch of odd-figures such as Highland infantry, Royal Horse Artillery, and British Hussars in dandy bearskins. The quality on some is a little variable, with the French Foot artillery in particular looking a little cartoonish in their proportions, but this is something I had been tipped to expect by plasticsoldierreview.

I'll list The full contents of the box, incidentally, as I couldn't find details online anywhere else. They are as follows:
1 Model farmhouse
1 diorama base, in two separate sheets
1 sprue of 48 Highlander Infantry
1 sprue of 48 British Line Infantry (Belgic Shakos)
1 sprue of Royal Horse Artillery, consisting of 2 cannon and a limber.
1 sprue of British Cavalry (Hussars, with bearskins)
1 sprue of French Grenadiers
1 sprue of French Line Infantry
1 sprue of French Cavalry (wearing Grecian helmets, who look like Dragoons or similar medium-ish cavalry)
1 sprue of French Foot Artillery consisting of 3 guns
1 sprue of Prussian Infantry (Landwehr, by the looks of 'em)
1 sprue of Farmyard equipment such as a farmer's wagon, timber barricades, sacks of equipment, etc.

As you'll see, you only ever get 1 sprue of each, so it's a bit of a taster box rather than anything else. A Good all-round starting point, as far as I'm concerned! The farm will also be handy for my gaming in general, as a mid-European farm can be used in a couple of the periods I game. The diorama base is pretty much useless to my plans, however. Shame, as it would probably look quite nice if painted and grassed. The farm equipment is a bit of a random addition, but I'll make good use of it to create an army's Supply base for its rear (basically doing the same job as the 'Camp' stand in DBA.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Columbia Games' Richard III

Previously I've been doing my Wars of the Roses campaign with 'A Crown of Paper', the free campaign system from The Perfect Captain (free on-line, by the way!) Now however, I have shifted on to a new system that lets me do one of my favourite tricks: combining a strategic board game with a tactical set of tabletop battle rules. By way of introduction however, I thought I should do some 'public service' stuff and post a little mini-review of the game in case anyone is interested.

Game system
First, the basics: RIII is a block-game, played on an area map of England in the middle ages. Actions are powered by drawing a hand of cards (with action points of them) from a small deck. on meeting the enemy in an area, the combat is settled by a series of dice-rolls on a regular d6.

The game is split into three 'campaigns' of seven turns each, and these campaigns roughly correspond with the historical campaigns from 1460-1461 Yorkist takeover (Northampton to Towton); The 1470-1471 fight between Edward IV and Warwick (Barnet & Tewkesbury campaign) and the final fight in 1483-1485 between Richard III and Henry Tudor (The Bosworth campaign.) A full hand of cards is dealt out for each campaign and gets used up
through its course, and between each campaign there is a 'reset' political phase where the holder of the crown is decided and the losing side needs to flee into exile. Each campaign therefore takes the form of one side trying to hold onto England and defend against uprisings by enemy-sympathising nobles, while at the same time the pretender is trying to arrive back from exile abroad in sufficient strength to seize the crown. The cards that allow actions can be spent on either moving active armies or recruiting new nobles, forcing players to constantly balance between either waiting passively and gathering their strength, or striking out to fight the enemy and win battles.

Each faction has five blocks which represent a noble with a claim of royal blood and a right to the
throne. The ultimate objective is to win the crown by either eliminating the five claimants your opponent has, or by holding the crown at the end of the final campaign.

Seq of Play
Each campaign turn goes in sequence where each player reveals a card they wish to use for action points, and initiative is determined by whoever plays the highest. The cards can vary from 2 to 4 APs, or a special event to add a bit of random period-detail. An AP allows a player to move an army one or two areas, or to recruit another block counter from his 'pool' of available supporters.

Blocks represent various types of units throughout the era. Most of them are for a powerful magnate, representing his personal retinue and following which he can raise and bring to a battle. Various others represent forces like city levies, foreign mercenaries, rebels, bombards, etc.

Each block has a combat rating, to reflect it's effectiveness in combat. This comes in two parts, being a letter that decides initiative (high for aggressive lords like Fauconberg/Clifford; low for levies) and a number to represent power (the roll needed to score a hit, again varied by the competence of the magnate.) Numerical strength is represented by a series of points between 1 and 4, each one marked on one edge of the block. Cleverly, hits are taken by rotating the block so the uppermost side shows how strong the force is and the strength dwindles away as hits are taken through a campaign (there's no recruiting in a campaign, and once raised the magnates merely grow weaker, until the campaign ends and they fully recover their strength before the next one.)

Another value on the blocks, and which has not been on any previous block-game I've personally seen, is the loyalty value. This is a very Wars-of-the-Roses thing, as it means some nobles can change sides mid-battle with predictably upsetting effects for the betrayed side. Each faction has a core of die-hard followers who can be relied on come what may, and then there are others whose loyalties are more, shall we say, elastic? The block rating value tells you how many dice need to be rolled in an attempt to lure them into a betrayal, which dictates the odds of it happening.

Movement is a straight area-to-area affair on the map, with each activated group able to travel up to 2 areas. Area boundaries vary the number of counters able to cross, with rivers and mountains reducing the amount that can travel. When counters arrive in an area a battle takes place, which (combined with the stacking limits) means careful moves to 'pin' potential enemy reinforcements in place are a good idea, producing more small-scale battles and preventing the whole thing turning into a single stack-of-doom event decided by one critical battle.

Sea moves are also possible to keep defending regimes on their toes with surprise landings from off-map overseas areas such as Calais, France & Ireland.

That is, at any rate, a rough info-review of the game. I hope that by using it to progress the campaigns, its qualities will come out in due course to act as a further recommendation!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

England, 1460

My replaying of the Wars of the Roses has been on hiatus for a while, as my massive expansion and re-organising plan for my miniatures progresses. Following lots of brushwork and swearing, I think it's high time to nudge things on. First though, a recap is probably a good idea.

The initial period of 1455 to 1459 has been played, and already history has gone out of the window. The opening 1st Battle of St Albans took place as the Battle of Lutterworth, where animosity between the ambitious Duke of York and the corrupt 'court faction' led by the Duke of Somerset exploded from metaphorical into literal warfare. Poor Henry VI found his royal procession brutally attacked and his entourage slaughtered by a pack of outlaws (or loyal subjects, depending on inclination) led by the Duke of York and his Neville Family co-conspirators. Several of the court faction big-knobs were brutally murdered (or righteously slain, depending on what end of the sword you're on.) Old Northumberland and Clifford both perished, but the head bad-guy himself (Somerset) managed to slip away from the scene. Henry VI, on account of being mentally unhinged, pardoned York for attacking him and accepted that he really didn't mean it and anyway, it was all going to be all right from now on.

The exiled Somerset didn't agree, and frankly neither did Queen Margaret of Anjou. Steadily working to limit York's powers, Margaret set up the king in a new court in the Midlands, and gathered her supporters. Likewise, York lurked off to his strongholds in the Welsh Marches and his chief ally Warwick took over the Calais garrison. It soom came to a fight once again and the country turned briefly into an armed camp in 1459 where the Lancastrian faction rallied round Henry VI in the midlands while York stayed put in his bolt-hole at Ludlow. Finally, with it looking like the combining Lancastrian hosts were about to flatten either York in the west or Warwick in the East, York struck out in a desperate all-or-nothing attack against the main Lancastrian army and caught it unawares.

At the battle of Lawford Heath, the Yorkists routed the Lancastrian army and captured the king. The cost was high, however - York himself fell in the desperate struggle and only much heroic derring-do from his son Edward, the Earl of March, stopped the whole thing from ending in catastrophic defeat. With Henry once more in the hands of the Yorkists and once more proclaiming that they didn't really mean it and it was going to be all right from now on, Margaret & Somerset fled to France along with many of the most senior peers of the realm. Edward, Earl of March (now also Duke of York, inheriting his father's title) swiftly took over the reins of his father's faction & cause.

All thinks considered, it's a pretty dicey situation. Most of the country is decidedly cool on this whole 'feuding nobles' thing and is either actively Anti-Yorkist or pretty uncommitted to the new regime. Only a small core of pro-Yorkist nobles, such as the powerful Neville family, are active backers. Now it's 1460 and time for the exiled 'French Lords' to make their return to oust the last Yorkist remnants, leaving Somerset & Queen Margaret once more calling the shots.

The small number of active pro-Yorkist nobles have to watch all areas of England against invasion. Edward himself sticks to his power-base in the Welsh Marches. Warwick, his effective 'number two' in the regime, is in London along with King Henry VI, making sure his majesty is nice and snug in the Tower. For his own safety, obviously. John de Mowbray, the pro-Yorkist Duke of Norfolk, is in charge of the East Anglia coast. Richard Neville, the Earl of Salisbury, is up in North Yorkshire to keep the North of England secure. Edward's younger brother & Earl of Rutland, the 17-year old Edmund Plantagenet, is based at Derby to act as a central reserve.

This is the Yorkist regime's strength in England, at any rate. If they hold out long enough however, there's two sources of overseas assistance which can be coutned on. One is William Neville, 'Little Fauconberg' himself - the stone-cold veteran of the Hundred Years' War (no, not all of it) who holds the Captaincy of Calais. He's got good Yorkist credentials, what with Warwick being his nephew and the deceased York being his Brother-in-Law, so he's got the plum position controlling both the Calais garrison and also the option to bring all manner of desperado European Mercenaries into England. The other source is the Yorkist stronghold of Ireland, where Edward's young brother George Plantagenet is being kept out of harm's way. He's only ten years' old, so it's not exactly likely he'll be called upon for his experience. However, in a pinch he could be a figurehead to gather support through dynastic obligations. Some more level-headed captains will have to be used to baby-sit him and lead the troops if it actually comes to a fight.

(The lovely Map above is from Columbia Games' marvellous 'Richard III' board game - of which more shortly!)

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

First Plastic Steps

My usual method of ordering an army is to work it out in full, prepare an order, then place it in one bulk order (broken into 2 or 3 if it's a large project.) I always end up using a single manufacturer, rarely mix in other odds & ends, and generally keep the whole business as quick & clean as possible. The new 'Plastic Waterloo' project has broken new ground already, as I'm not doing this at all.

Instead of buying the lot from one place I'm picking up odd boxes here and there, wherever I can find them. I'm actually discovering the "collectors' side" of the hobby, which I've never bothered with before now - the challenge of hunting down the desired models and picking them up from obscure online shops, internet ebay auctions, and so on. The whole thing feels like a breath of fresh air - a mad hunt high and low to obtain that crucial last box of Zvezda French Napoleonic Line Artillery, where online listings need to be prowled every day. Strangely exciting, in an admittedly very nerdy way.

The master-plan is in place, at least. I've become best friends with the website for it's (splendid) catalogue of online photos & reviews about what each box contains. Frequently they're better than the manufacturers' own website!

The first steps have already been taken, and frankly I've already been convinced of the financial sense of the move. My first purchase was the Airfix Waterloo Diorama Box Set, which seems to contain four-hundred-odd figures of great use, plus a model farm-house - all a spectacular bag for just £20! I had spotted it in the Glasgow branch of Hamleys, but it is also available at this sale price from the Airfix website direct (oddly, other sites such as Amazon are still selling it at the full £35 price, so searching around has already paid benefits.)

Next up, I had a look on ebay and discovered that as well as individual boxes, folk also put up collections of several boxes at once. One I found a day or two ago which was coming to a halt for a pile of twelve Revell boxes, all Waterloo-relevant figures like British/Prussian/French Foot, Cavalry, Artillery, etc. I reasoned that this would be cheaper than buying individually, so plonked in a bid. While wandering around in the supermarket in my lunch-break yesterday, I got the email on my phone telling me I had won the lot! Although the exact number of figures is a little vague (do you count Artillery guns as one model? several? None?) but there's no denying the fact I seem to have gotten a real bargain. From my initial calculations, I believe I have gotten practically all my British Infantry for the price of roughly 10p per figure! Try that in lead at the closest scale (20mm to 25mm?) and you're probably talking ten times that price.

Once these packages are delivered, the next big challenge will be to track down some of the more awkward customers - things like Artillery, and some of the more obscure infantry. Once the Airfix Waterloo box arrives, I'll also be able to finalise my 'Target List' of what's required.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Plastic Fantastic

My last post brought two nice comments from Ray and Jim, so I thought I'd start by saying a big "Thanks!" to them both. Normally I just add a comment of my own to say ta, but I'm in such a positive mood I thought I'd start by just saying hi in the next post. More WotR stuff is coming shortly, including the next stage of my refight of the Wars (yes, I finally have enough figures painted to launch into that again!) For now though, something totally different...

Further progress from the usual chin-stroking about what big project to pick up next, and an unexpected one has turned up (isn't it always the way?) I had been pondering an attempt to make the Waterloo Campaign in miniature, largely inspired from reading over the old 'Horse Foot & Guns' rules (by Richard Bodley Scott) that I used to use, based on the DBA system but extending them into the horse & Musket period. The Army lists he produced are actually very precise for the 100-days' campaign, listing the entirety of the French, Prussian and Anglo-Allied armies. As ever with some project with a definite 'maximum size' feature, I found myself drawn to it.

Next up was the purchase off Amazon at knock-down price of the massive hardback book 'The Waterloo Companion' by Mark Adkin. This proved to have even more interest and info (although just of the titular battle, not the entire 4-day campaign) which worsened things. I began to plan out how I could buy the miniatures.

They're not small armies, and quite varied & eclectic in the case of Wellington's lot. As the only thing more involving than painting an army is organising your purchases to start painting an army, I found myself sinking into an ever-increasingly complicated pile of spreadsheets, price lists, packaging systems, manufacturers, and scales.

Ah, scales. What a headache that is in itself! I could do it in 2mm, and be super-realistic. I could do it in 6mm and get scale and detail, or I could go into 15mm and get a bit more abstracted, going for the DBA 4-figures-representing-a-brigade style of basing. I pondered. A lot.

I don't know if other gamers out there have the same experience, but if I spend ages examining and planning something, there can come a point where you hit a wall. Then, if some new idea occurs, it can blow the whole thing up into the air again and make you look at the whole thing afresh. I was very nearly settled on 6mm as the scale of choice, giving the best balance between visually pleasing end-results and not bankrupting myself along the way. Then, another dark-horse option turned up. In my case, it turned out to be plastic figures.

I remember these 1:72 cheap, flexible plastic figures with some personal nostalgia, as they were my very first wargame models. From the local toy shop I would get boxes of figures (Italieri/Esci/ERTL as I recall) and I bought pretty much one of each, as back then I saw no point in wasting pocket money buying two of the same thing, and balanced force-composition wasn't my thing. I had various mixes of them, such as a box of Romans and a box of barbarians (lots of red paint on the axe-blades, I believe!); Colonial British and the Zulus , who I recall also had spears & shields which were maddeningly easy to knock off (gluing them never occurred, surprisingly!) Centre of the whole collection however were the Napoleonic figures, probably mostly through availability. Like no other set, I could get an entire all-arms army as they sold Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery.

My first proper 'Army' for wargames was Waterloo British infantry who would form square to face off against the French Grenadiers in Column (no, I didn't understand the tactical formations either) and probably amounted in total to:
British Infantry, which was about 2/3rds English and 1/3rd Highlander dress
Cavalry - Scots Greys, all of it. (The shop never stocked another type, so I thought the cavalry was 100% uniformed like this)
Artillery - All Royal Horse Artillery, with the natty little Tarleton helmet. No Foot Artillery, of course.

French Grenadiers - No common 'Line' troops here, which probably meant Napoleon had to annihilate the bear-population of Europe to equip his armies with headgear.
Cavalry - roughly 50% Cuirassiers and 50% Lancers. In a rare example of branching out, I bought two boxes of French Cavalry, probably because I judged Lancers as sufficiently 'different' to matter.
Artillery - All Old Guard bearskins yet again, and annoyingly through a packaging decision two guns were 12lb 'proper' cannons while the other two were 'broken' cannon with short howitzer barrels (I had no idea what they were.)

From this in auspicious and long-gone beginning, can I build something like a decent army to take to the wargames field? There's no arguing with the beast in question as all the pros and cons have been rehearsed at great length elsewhere. They're soft plastic, paint flakes off, they mould poorly, the poses are all over the shop (and sometimes ludicrously weird), etc. etc. etc. However, there's no arguing with the fact that you get 50 a box, and a box can cost around a fiver. There's just no arguing with that! The only question is where the hell to buy them so I am currently searching in to the weirder corners of the web on Ebay and so on, trying to track down anywhere that deals in them these days. A far cry from my normal one-stop shop method where the list is definitively worked out before I place the order!